Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal community composition determines the competitive response of two grassland forbs.PLoS One. 2019; 14(7):e0219527.Plos
We performed a greenhouse experiment to assess how differences in AM fungal community composition affect competitive response of grassland plant species. We used a full factorial design to determine how inoculation with natural AM fungal communities from different habitats in Western Estonia affects the growth response of two grassland forbs (Leontodon hispidus L., Plantago lanceolata L.) to competition with a dominant grass (Festuca rubra L.). We used AM fungal inocula that were known to differ in AM fungal diversity and composition: more diverse AM fungal communities from open grasslands and less diverse AM fungal communities from former grassland densely overgrown by pines (young pine forest). The presence of AM fungi balanced competition between forb and grass species, by enhancing competitive response of the forbs. The magnitude of this effect was dependent on forb species identity and on the origin of the AM fungal inoculum in the soil. The grassland inoculum enhanced the competitive response of the forb species more effectively than the forest inoculum, but inoculum-specific competitive responses varied according to the habitat preference of the forb species. Our findings provide evidence that composition and diversity of natural AM fungal communities, as well as co-adaptation of plant hosts and AM-fungal communities to local habitat conditions, can determine plant-plant interactions and thus ultimately influence plant community structure in nature.