skip to main content

Title: Manipulating plant microbiomes in the field: Native mycorrhizae advance plant succession and improve native plant restoration

The plant microbiome is critical to plant health and is degraded with anthropogenic disturbance. However, the value of re‐establishing the native microbiome is rarely considered in ecological restoration. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are particularly important microbiome components, as they associate with most plants, and later successional grassland plants are strongly responsive to native AM fungi.

With five separate sites across the United States, we inoculated mid‐ and late successional plant seedlings with one of three types of native microbiome amendments: (a) whole rhizosphere soil collected from local old‐growth, undisturbed grassland communities in Illinois, Kansas or Oklahoma, (b) laboratory cultured AM fungi from these same old‐growth grassland sites or (c) no microbiome amendment. We also seeded each restoration with a diverse native seed mixture. Plant establishment and growth was followed for three growing seasons.

The reintroduction of soil microbiome from native ecosystems improved restoration establishment.

Including only native arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities produced similar improvements in plant establishment as what was found with whole soil microbiome amendment. These findings were robust across plant functional groups.

Inoculated plants (amended with either AM fungi or whole soil) also grew more leaves and were generally taller during the three growing seasons.

Synthesis and applications. Our research shows that more » mycorrhizal fungi can accelerate plant succession and that the reintroduction of both whole soil and laboratory cultivated native mycorrhizal fungi can be used as tools to improve native plant restoration following anthropogenic disturbance.

« less
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Award ID(s):
1946093 1656006 2016549
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal of Applied Ecology
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 1976-1985
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Although several studies have shown increased native plant establishment with native microbe soil amendments, few studies have investigated how microbes can alter seedling recruitment and establishment in the presence of a non-native competitor. In this study, the effect of microbial communities on seedling biomass and diversity was assessed by seeding pots with both native prairie seeds and a non-native grass that commonly invades US grassland restorations, Setaria faberi. Soil in the pots was inoculated with whole soil collections from ex-arable land, late successional arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi isolated from a nearby tallgrass prairie, with both prairie AM fungi and ex-arable whole soil, or with a sterile soil (control). We hypothesized (1) late successional plants would benefit from native AM fungi, (2) that non-native plants would outcompete native plants in ex-arable soils, and (3) early successional plants would be unresponsive to microbes. Overall, native plant abundance, late successional plant abundance, and total diversity were greatest in the native AM fungi+ ex-arable soil treatment. These increases led to decreased abundance of the non-native grass S. faberi. These results highlight the importance of late successional native microbes on native seed establishment and demonstrate that microbes can be harnessed to improve both plant communitymore »diversity and resistance to invasion during the nascent stages of restoration.« less
  2. « less
  3. Restoration quality of native prairie can be improved by reintroducing key organisms from the native plant microbiome such as arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. Here, we assess whether the positive effects of a native mycorrhizal inoculation observed during the first growing season remained at the end of the fourth growing season. In 2016, an experiment was initiated that assessed the response of a restored tallgrass prairie to an inoculation density gradient of native mycorrhizal fungi ranging from 0 to 8,192 kg/ha. First year results indicated that native plant establishment benefited from high but not low densities of native mycorrhizal inocula, resulting in improvements in native plant abundance, richness, and diversity. To assess whether these effects persist in later growing seasons, we resampled the prairie restoration in 2020 and analyzed the data similarly. Results from the fourth growing season indicated that the pattern of responses had persisted; the positive effects of inoculation observed during the first growing season remained after four growing seasons as demonstrated by improvements in total and native plant diversity and reduced non‐native abundance. Additionally, the low densities of mycorrhizal amendment that were not initially effective were found to reduce non‐native abundance in the fourth growing season, suggesting that lowmore »densities of mycorrhizal amendment can be amplified via positive plant‐AM fungal feedback to suppress weeds following the introduction of lesser amounts of AM fungi.

    « less
  4. Abstract

    Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are root symbionts that can facilitate plant growth and influence plant communities by altering plant interactions with herbivores. Therefore, AM fungi could be critical for the conservation of certain rare plants and herbivores. For example, North American milkweed species are crucial hosts for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Understanding how mycorrhizal composition affects milkweeds will have direct impacts on the conservation and restoration of both increasingly threatened guilds. We present data from three studies on the effect of AM fungal composition on milkweed growth, latex production, and establishment. First, we grew seven milkweed species with and without a mixture of native mycorrhizal fungi. We assessed how important fungal composition is to milkweed growth and latex production by growing four milkweed species with seven fungal compositions, as single‐species inoculations with four native fungi, a mixture of native fungi, a single commercial fungus of presumably non‐native origin, and noninoculated controls. Finally, we assessed the field establishment of two milkweed species with and without native mycorrhizal inoculation. Milkweed species grew 98% larger and produced 82% more latex after inoculation with native mycorrhizae. Milkweeds were strongly affected by fungal composition; milkweeds were inhibited by commercial fungi (average of −14% growth)more »and showed variable but positive responses to native fungal species (average of +3% to +38% biomass). Finally, we found that restoration establishment was dependent on inoculation with native fungi and milkweed species. Overall, our findings indicate that some milkweed species (i.e.,Asclepias syriacaandA. incarnata) are not responsive to mycorrhizal fungal presence or sensitive to mycorrhizal composition while others are, including endangered species (A. meadii) and species of high conservation value (A. tuberosa). We conclude that the reintroduction of native AM fungi could improve the establishment of desirable milkweed species and should be considered within strategies for plantings for monarch conservation.

    « less
  5. Losses of grasslands have been largely attributed to widespread land‐use changes, such as conversion to row‐crop agriculture. The remaining tallgrass prairie faces further losses due to biological invasions by non‐native plant species, often with resultant ecosystem degradation. Of critical concern for conservation, restoration of native grasslands has been met with little success following eradication of non‐native plants. In addition to the direct and indirect effects of non‐native invasive plants on beneficial soil microbes, management practices targeting invasive species may also negatively affect subsequent restoration efforts. To assess mechanisms limiting germination and survival of native species and to improve native species establishment, we established six replicate plots of each of the following four treatments: (1) inoculated with freshly collected prairie soil with native seeds; (2) inoculated with steam‐pasteurized soil with native seeds; (3) noninoculated with native seeds; or (4) noninoculated/nonseeded control. Inoculation with whole soil did not improve seed germination; however, addition of whole soil significantly improved native species survival, compared to pasteurized soil or noninoculated treatments. Inoculation with whole soil significantly decreased reestablishment of non‐native invasiveBothriochloa bladhii(Caucasian bluestem); at the end of the growing season, plots receiving whole soil consisted of approximately 30%B. bladhiicover, compared to approximately 80% in plotsmore »receiving no soil inoculum. Our results suggest invasion and eradication efforts negatively affect arbuscular mycorrhizal hyphal and spore abundances and soil aggregate stability, and inoculation with locally adapted soil microbial communities can improve metrics of restoration success, including plant species richness and diversity, while decreasing reinvasion by non‐native species.

    « less