Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) may promote plant invasion by enhancing plant performance and competitiveness. However, only a small number of studies have considered the interactions between local soil microbial communities and invasive plants, and even fewer have focused on alien trees. Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle is a serious problem in the Mediterranean Basin, where it has invaded many habitats. We investigated the symbiosis between A. altissima and indigenous AMF in two invaded, ecologically different Mediterranean woodlands. Mycorrhizal infection was high at both sites (> 60% of the root fragments were mycorrhizal), indicating that A. altissima roots may be infected by AMF under different ecological conditions. In a greenhouse experiment, A. altissima seedling growth was evaluated in untreated soil (natural soil containing the entire microbial community except AMF propagules), in sterilized soil, and in sterilized soil containing the entire microbial community except AMF. Seedling growth was greater in the natural soil than in the other two soils. Seedlings in natural soil but not in the other two soils were extensively colonized by AMF, indicating that AMF may have been responsible for the greater growth in the natural soil. Growth was poorer in the sterile soil that had been inoculated with a soil suspension lacking AMF propagules than in the sterile soil, suggesting that the natural soil also contained pathogens and that the AMF countered the effects of these pathogens. Overall, the results indicate that AMF are an important biotic component of Mediterranean woodlands invaded by A. altissima and AMF may facilitate A. altissima's invasion in these woodlands.
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1 April 2015
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi positively affect growth of Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) Swingle seedlings and show a strong association with this invasive species in Mediterranean woodlands
Tommaso La Mantia
invasive tree species