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Arbuscular mycorrhizal communities in tropical forests are affected by host tree species and environment


Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are mutualists with plant roots that are proposed to enhance plant community diversity. Models indicate that AM fungal communities could maintain plant diversity in forests if functionally different communities are spatially separated. In this study we assess the spatial and temporal distribution of the AM fungal community in a wet tropical rainforest in Costa Rica. We test whether distinct fungal communities correlate with variation in tree life history characteristics, with host tree species, and the relative importance of soil type, seasonality and rainfall. Host tree species differ in their associated AM fungal communities, but differences in the AM community between hosts could not be generalized over life history groupings of hosts. Changes in the relative abundance of a few common AM fungal species were the cause of differences in AM fungal communities for different host tree species instead of differences in the presence and absence of AM fungal species. Thus, AM fungal communities are spatially distinguishable in the forest, even though all species are widespread. Soil fertility ranging between 5 and 9 Mg/ha phosphorus did not affect composition of AM fungal communities, although sporulation was more abundant in lower fertility soils. Sampling soils over seasons revealed that some AM fungal species sporulate profusely in the dry season compared to the rainy season. On one host tree species sampled at two sites with vastly different rainfall, relative abundance of spores from Acaulospora was lower and that of Glomus was relatively higher at the site with lower and more seasonal rainfall.

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We thank Rachel Tenni, Gerardo Vega, Giselle Alvarez and Gilberto Hernandez Lopez for their assistance in the field. The Organization for Tropical Studies provided logistic support. The study was supported by the Scholarly Studies Program of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science Foundation award DBI-0129791 to INVAM, and partially by NSF awards DEB-0129038 and DEB-010838. We especially thank Deborah and David Clark for their advice on tree species, access to their unpublished data and stimulating discussions.

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Correspondence to Catherine E. Lovelock.

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Lovelock, C.E., Andersen, K. & Morton, J.B. Arbuscular mycorrhizal communities in tropical forests are affected by host tree species and environment. Oecologia 135, 268–279 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-002-1166-3

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  • Glomales
  • Acaulospora morrowiae
  • Acaulospora mellea
  • Acaulospora foveata