Seedlings of Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco were grown for six-16 months in untrenched and trenched treatments in three 90–120-yr-old mixed forests dominated by Betula papyrifera Marsh, and P. menziesii in the southern interior of British Columbia. Each forest was characterized by mesic conditions and low light intensity (PAR < 200 μmol m−2 s−1) in the understorey. The objective of the study was to evaluate the influence of overstorey tree roots on (i) ectomycorrhizal fungal composition, richness and diversity, and (ii) photosynthesis and growth of understorey P. menziesii seedlings. Seventeen ectomycorrhizal morphotypes were recognized on seedlings in the untrenched treatment, and nine in the trenched treatment over the three sites. Six types occurred in both treatments, of which on average Rhizopogon vinicolor Smith type was 20 times more abundant and Thelephora type six times less abundant in the untrenched as in the trenched treatment. Of types that formed strands or rhizomorphs, eight occurred in the untrenched treatment, where they occupied on average 23% of root tips, and only four occurred in the trenched treatment over 4% of the root tips. Mean richness, diversity, and evenness of ectomycorrhizal associates per seedling were approx. twice as great in the untrenched as in the trenched treatment.
Net photosynthetic rate of P. menziesii seedlings was greater in the untrenched than in the trenched treatment in July and August, but not in September 1994. Height, diameter and biomass of seedlings did not differ between treatments, but height: diameter ratio was greater in the untrenched treatment at time of harvest. The effect of trenching on seedling performance was attributed mainly to differences in ectomycorrhizal colonization patterns because trenching had no significant effect on soil nutrient concentrations (total C, total N, NH4-N, available N, exchangeable Ca, exchangeable Mg, exchangeable K), C:N ratio, soil pH or light availability. Nor was there a significant difference in soil water in August, when seedlings in untrenched plots had higher net photosynthetic rates than those in trenched plots. Results suggest that influence of overstorey trees and pattern of ectomycorrhizal formation are important to P. menziesii seedling performance in deeply shaded forest environments.