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Mycorrhizal Inoculation of Big Sacaton: Implications for Grassland Restoration of Abandoned Agricultural Fields


Address correspondence to Dr. Jean Stutz, Department of Plant Biology, Box 871601, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287. E-mail:


Grasslands dominated by Sporobolus wrightii (big sacaton) once covered riparian floodplains in southwestern United States and northern Sonora, Mexico but now occupy less than 5% of their historic range, mostly due to clearing for agriculture. Many agricultural fields have been abandoned because of changing land uses, and efforts are under way to restore native grassland habitat. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are known to form associations with S. wrightii and can be a potential factor in grassland restoration efforts. The goal of this study was to determine the effects of mycorrhizal inoculation on S. wrightii during transplant production and in a restoration trial. Sporobolus wrightii was grown with and without AM fungi in 2.8-L tall pots and 150-mL nursery containers under greenhouse conditions for 8 weeks and then transplanted into an abandoned agricultural field. Plants were monitored for growth, survival, and mycorrhizal infection. Seedling emergence in the greenhouse was higher in pots with mycorrhizal inoculation, but inoculation had little effect on growth except more tillers were produced by pre-inoculated plants grown in the smaller containers. In the abandoned field, pre-inoculated plants had greater survival, basal diameter, and tiller and panicle production through the first two growing seasons. Plants started in smaller containers also had greater survival, height, basal diameter, and tiller production than those started in tall pots. Root colonization was detected in all plants by 2 months after transplanting but was not consistent throughout the experiment except for pre-inoculated plants started in the smaller containers. These results indicate that mycorrhizal inoculation can benefit restoration efforts in abandoned agriculture fields in semiarid regions.