Extensive tree mortality in forests can change the community composition of soil fungi altering seedling establishment, a process critical to forest restoration. Disturbances that result in the loss of ectomycorrhizal fungi, in particular, may impede the establishment of tree species reliant on these symbionts for their survival. Inoculation of seedlings with soil from intact forests may improve the establishment of seedlings in such disturbances but the method has rarely been tested in the field. Here, we assess whether soil inoculation improves lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) seedling performance in conspecific stands with high levels of tree mortality caused by a mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreak and whether underlying soil type modifies inoculation effects. We first inoculated seedlings in a growth chamber with small amounts of soils (5% volume) originating from either intact (<10%) or “beetle-killed” (>70% pine basal area killed) conspecific stands or added no soil inoculum and, after 4 months, transplanted them into 15 beetle-killed stands. After two growing seasons, root-associated fungal communities of seedlings receiving inoculum from intact stands differed in composition from those receiving inoculum from beetle-killed stands or no inoculum. However, inoculation had no effect on seedling survival, height, or biomass. Site properties, including soil texture and the resident fungal community composition, overwhelmed the effect of soil inoculation on seedling performance. Seedling survival and shoot mass was higher in sandy than loamy soils. Restoration to improve seedling performance in beetle-killed stands should consider stand-level treatments as soil inoculation at the level evaluated was ineffective.
- conifer forests
- disturbance legacy
- insect outbreaks
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation