Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities change among three stages of primary sand dune succession but do not alter plant growth


B. A. Sikes, Section of Integrative Biology, Univ. of Texas at Austin, TX 78705, USA. E-mail:


Plant interactions with soil biota could have a significant impact on plant successional trajectory by benefiting plants in a particular successional stage over others. The influence of soil mutualists such as mycorrhizal fungi is thought to be an important feedback component, yet they have shown benefits to both early and late successional plants that could either retard or accelerate succession. Here we first determine if arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi differ among three stages of primary sand dune succession and then if they alter growth of plants from particular successional stages. We isolated AM fungal inoculum from early, intermediate or late stages of a primary dune succession and compared them using cloning and sequencing. We then grew eight plant species that dominate within each of these successional stages with each AM fungal inoculum. We measured fungal growth to assess potential AM functional differences and plant growth to determine if AM fungi positively or negatively affect plants. AM fungi isolated from early succession were more phylogenetically diverse relative to intermediate and late succession while late successional fungi consistently produced more soil hyphae and arbuscules. Despite these differences, inocula from different successional stages had similar effects on the growth of all plant species. Host plant biomass was not affected by mycorrhizal inoculation relative to un-inoculated controls. Although mycorrhizal communities differ among primary dune successional stages and formed different fungal structures, these differences did not directly affect the growth of plants from different dune successional stages in our experiment and therefore may be less likely to directly contribute to plant succession in sand dunes.