Specificity between Neotropical tree seedlings and their fungal mutualists leads to plant-soil feedback.
A growing body of evidence obtained largely from temperate grassland studies suggests that feedbacks occurring between plants and their associated soil biota are important to plant community assemblage. However, few studies have examined the importance of soil organisms in driving plant-soil feedbacks in forested systems. In a tropical forest in central Panama, we examined whether interactions between tree seedlings and their associated arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) lead to plant-soil feedback. Specifically, do tropical seedlings modify their own AMF communities in a manner that either favors or inhibits the next cohort of conspecific seedlings (i.e., positive or negative feedback, respectively)? Seedlings of two shade-tolerant tree species (Eugenia nesiotica, Virola surinamensis) and two pioneer tree species (Luehea seemannii, Apeiba aspera) were grown in pots containing identical AMF communities composed of equal amounts of inoculum of six co-occurring AMF species. The different AMF-host combinations were all exposed to two light levels. Under low light (2% PAR), only two of the six AMF species sporulated, and we found that host identity did not influence composition of AMF spore communities. However, relative abundances of three of the four AMF species that produced spores were influenced by host identity when grown under high light (20% PAR). Furthermore, spores of one of the AMF species, Glomus geosporum, were common in soils of Luehea and Eugenia but absent in soils of Apeiba and Virola. We then conducted a reciprocal experiment to test whether AMF communities previously modified by Luehea and Apeiba differentially affected the growth of conspecific and heterospecific seedlings. Luehea seedling growth did not differ between soils containing AMF communities modified by Luehea and Apeiba. However, Apeiba seedlings were significantly larger when grown with Apeiba-modified AMF communities, as compared to Apeiba seedlings grown with Luehea-modifed AMF communities. Our experiments suggest that interactions between tropical trees and their associated AMF are species-specific and that these interactions may shape both tree and AMF communities through plant-soil feedback.
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