Nurse effects mediated by acid-tolerance of target species and arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization in an acid soil

  • Lei He
  • Jing Xu
  • Liangliang Hu
  • Minglei Ren
  • Jianjun TangEmail author
  • Xin ChenEmail author
Regular Article



We tested whether a nurse-plant effect depends on target-seedling tolerance to soil acidity and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in an acid soil.


A mesocosm experiment was used to assess the acid-tolerance of the seedlings of four target species. Field experiment 1 tested the nurse effects of an adult plant (Lespedeza formosa) on germination rate, seedling survival rate, growth and AMF colonization rate of target seedlings growing in an acid soil. Field experiment 2 tested the influence of AMF root colonization on nurse-plant effects.


Target species greatly varied in their tolerance to soil acidity while nurse-effect on target species were mediated by target species acid-tolerance and AMF root colonization. In field experiment 1, as expected, nurse-effect was positive for acid-sensitive species and negative for acid-tolerant species. While nurse plant presence facilitated the germination, survival, growth, and AMF colonization of the two acid-sensitive species it competed with the two acid-tolerant species. In field experiment 2, the nurse plant facilitated the growth of the acid-sensitive seedlings more under AMF not suppressed treatment than AMF suppressed treatment. For the acid-tolerant seedlings, however, the nurse plant reduced their growth under AMF not suppressed treatment, but did not affect their growth under AMF suppressed treatment.


Nurse plant facilitated the acid-sensitive species in an acid soil, and the facilitation was enhanced by increasing AMF in the soil. These findings highlight how acid-tolerance of target species and AMF colonization mediates nurse plant facilitation and has important implications for the use of nurse plants in the restoration of acid soils ecosystems.


Acid soil Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi Facilitation Nurse effect Seedling growth Stress tolerance 



This research was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (no. 2016YFC0502703–4), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (no.31570411), and the Zhejiang Natural Science Foundation (no. Y15C030005).

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4103_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 1214 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Life SciencesZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.The Institute of Environmental Resources and Soil FertilizersZhejiang Academy of Agricultural SciencesHangzhouChina

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