The effects of ectomycorrhizal fungal networks on seedling establishment are contingent on species and severity of overstorey mortality

Gregory J. Pec, Suzanne W. Simard, James F. Cahill, Justine Karst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

For tree seedlings in boreal forests, ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungal networks may promote, while root competition may impede establishment. Thus, disruption to EM fungal networks may decrease seedling establishment owing to the loss of positive interactions among neighbors. Widespread tree mortality can disrupt EM networks, but it is not clear whether seedling establishment will be limited by the loss of positive interactions or increased by the loss of negative interactions with surrounding roots. Depending upon the relative influence of these mechanisms, widespread tree mortality may have complicated consequences on seedling establishment, and in turn, the composition of future forests. To discern between these possible outcomes and the drivers of seedling establishment, we determined the relative importance of EM fungal networks, root presence, and the bulk soil on the establishment of lodgepole pine and white spruce seedlings along a gradient of beetle-induced tree mortality. We manipulated seedling contact with EM fungal networks and roots through the use of mesh-fabric cylinders installed in soils of lodgepole pine forests experiencing a range of overstorey tree mortality caused by mountain pine beetle. Lodgepole pine seedling survival was higher with access to EM fungal networks in undisturbed pine forests in comparison with that in beetle-killed stands. That is, overstorey tree mortality shifted fungal networks from being a benefit to a cost on seedling survival. In contrast, overstorey tree mortality did not change the relative strength of EM fungal networks, root presence and the bulk soil on survival and biomass of white spruce seedlings. Furthermore, the relative influence of EM fungal networks, root presence, and bulk soils on foliar N and P concentrations was highly contingent on seedling species and overstorey tree mortality. Our results highlight that following large-scale insect outbreak, soil-mediated processes can enable differential population growth of two common conifer species, which may result in species replacement in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
JournalMycorrhiza
Volume30
Issue number2-3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2020

Keywords

  • Ectomycorrhizal fungi
  • Forest disturbance
  • Insect outbreaks
  • Mountain pine beetle
  • Picea glauca
  • Pinus contorta
  • Tree mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science

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