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The promise and the potential consequences of the global transport of mycorrhizal fungal inoculum

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*E-mail: mwschwartz@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

Advances in ecology during the past decade have led to a much more detailed understanding of the potential negative consequences of species’ introductions. Moreover, recent studies of mycorrhizal symbionts have led to an increased knowledge of the potential utility of fungal inoculations in agricultural, horticultural and ecological management. The intentional movement of mycorrhizal fungal species is growing, but the concomitant potential for negative ecological consequences of invasions by mycorrhizal fungi is poorly understood. We assess the degree to which introductions of mycorrhizal fungi may lead to unintended negative, and potentially costly, consequences. Our purpose is to make recommendations regarding appropriate management guidelines and highlight top priority research needs. Given the difficulty in discerning invasive species problems associated with mycorrhizal inoculations, we recommend the following. First, careful assessment documenting the need for inoculation, and the likelihood of success, should be conducted prior to inoculation because inoculations are not universally beneficial. Second, invasive species problems are costly and often impossible to control by the time they are recognized. We recommend using local inoculum sources whenever possible. Third, non-sterile cultures of inoculum can result in the movement of saprobes and pathogens as well as mutualists. We recommend using material that has been produced through sterile culture when local inoculum is not available. Finally, life-history characteristics of inoculated fungi may provide general guidelines relative to the likelihood of establishment and spread. We recommend that, when using non-local fungi, managers choose fungal taxa that carry life-history traits that may minimize the likelihood of deleterious invasive species problems. Additional research is needed on the potential of mycorrhizal fungi to spread to non-target areas and cause ecological damage.

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