Interactions between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and intraspecific competition affect size, and size inequality, of Plantago lanceolata L.
*Present address and correspondence: Ruth L. Ayres, Centre for Academic Practice, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 8UW, UK (tel. +44 2476 574121; fax +44 2476 572736; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
- 1Intraspecific competition causes decreases in plant size and increases in size inequality. Arbuscular mycorrhizas usually increase the size and inequality of non-competing plants, but mycorrhizal effects often disappear when plants begin competing. We hypothesized that mycorrhizal effects on size inequality would be determined by the experimental conditions, and conducted simultaneous field and glasshouse experiments to investigate how AM fungi and intraspecific competition determine size inequality in Plantago lanceolata.
- 2As predicted, plant size was reduced when plants were competing, in both field and controlled conditions. However, size inequality was unexpectedly reduced by competition. Plants may have competed in a symmetric fashion, probably for nutrients, rather than the more common situation, in which plant competition is strongly asymmetric.
- 3Mycorrhizas had no effect on plant size or size inequality in competing plants in either field or controlled conditions, possibly because competition for nutrients was intense and negated any benefit the fungi could provide.
- 4The effects of mycorrhizas on non-competing plants were also unexpected. In field-grown plants, AM fungi increased plant size, but decreased size inequality: mycorrhizal plants were more even in size, with few very small individuals. In glasshouse conditions, mycorrhizal colonization was extremely high, and was generally antagonistic, causing a reduction in plant size. Here, however, mycorrhizas caused an increase in size inequality, supporting our original hypothesis. This was because most plants were heavily colonized and small, but a few had low levels of colonization and grew relatively large.
- 5This study has important implications for understanding the forces that structure plant communities. AM fungi can have a variety of effects on size inequality and thus potentially important influences on long-term plant population dynamics, by affecting the genetic contribution of individuals to the next generation. However, these effects differ, depending on whether plants are competing or not, the degree of mycorrhizal colonization and the responsiveness of the plant to different colonization densities.