Question: How does changing resource availability induced by fertilization and defoliation affect seedling establishment and mycorrhizal symbiosis in a subarctic meadow?
Location: 610 m a.s.l., Kilpisjärvi (69°03′ N, 20°50′ E), Finland.
Methods: A short-term full-factorial experiment was established, with fertilization and defoliation of natural established vegetation as treatments. Seeds of two perennial herbs Solidago virgaurea and Gnaphalium norvegicum were sown in natural vegetation and their germination and growth followed. At the final harvest we measured the response in terms of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) colonization, biomass and nitrogen concentration of the seedlings and the established vegetation.
Results: Germination rate was negatively affected by defoliation in the unfertilized plots. The shoot biomass of S. virgaurea seedlings was reduced by the defoliation and fertilization treatments, but not affected by their interaction. In G. norvegicum, the germination rate and the seedling shoot biomass were negatively correlated with moss biomass in the plots. In the established plants the arbuscular colonization rate was low and defoliation and fertilization treatments either increased or did not affect the colonization by AM fungi. In the seedlings, the colonization rate by AM fungi was high, but it was not affected by treatments. Both seedlings and established plants were colonized by dark septate fungi.
Conclusions: Reduction of plant biomass by herbivores can have different effects on seedling growth in areas of high and low soil nutrient availability. The weak response of AM colonization to defoliation and fertilization suggests that AM symbiosis is not affected by altering plant resource availability under the conditions employed in this study.
Abbreviations: AM = arbuscular mycorrhizal; DS = dark septate.
Nomenclature: Hämet-Ahti et al. 1998 (vascular plants).