Mycorrhizal suppression alters plant productivity and forb establishment in a grass-dominated prairie restoration

TitleMycorrhizal suppression alters plant productivity and forb establishment in a grass-dominated prairie restoration
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsMcCain, KNS, Wilson, GT, Blair, JM
JournalPlant Ecology
Pagination1675 -1685
Accession NumberKNZ001425
KeywordsArbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, forbs, Fungicide, Grassland restoration, Warm-season grass

A fundamental goal of restoration is the re-establishment of plant diversity representative of native vegetation. However, many prairie restorations or Conservation Reserve Program sites have been seeded with warm-season grasses, leading to grass-dominated, low-diversity restorations not representative of native grasslands. These dominant grasses are strongly mycotrophic, while many subordinate forb species appear to be less dependent on mycorrhizal symbiosis. Therefore, manipulating arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) may be useful in promoting establishment and growth of forb species in grass-dominated prairie restorations. To assess the potential role of mycorrhizae in affecting the productivity and community composition of restored tallgrass prairie, we conducted a 4-year field experiment on an 8-year-old grassland restoration at the Konza Prairie in northeastern Kansas, USA. At the initiation of our study, seeds of 12 forb species varying in degree of mycorrhizal dependence were added to established grass-dominated plots. Replicate plots were treated bi-weekly with a soil drench of fungicide (Topsin-M®) over four growing seasons and compared to non-treated control plots to assess the role of AMF in affecting plant species composition, productivity, leaf tissue quality, and diversity in restored tallgrass prairie. Topsin applications successfully reduced mycorrhizal colonization of grass roots to approximately 60–80% relative to roots in control plots. Four years of mycorrhizal suppression reduced productivity of the dominant grasses and increased plant species richness and diversity. These results highlight the importance of mycorrhizae as mediators of plant productivity and community dynamics in restored tallgrass prairie and indicate that temporarily suppressing AMF decreases productivity of the dominant C4 grasses and allows for establishment of seeded forb species