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Facilitated establishment of Quercus ilex in shrub-dominated communities within a Mediterranean ecosystem: do mycorrhizal partners matter?

Franck Richard, Marc-André Selosse, Monique Gardes
FEMS Microbiology Ecology 2009, 68 (1): 14-24
19175678
Positive plant-plant interaction is a widespread phenomenon, especially in harsh environments, which can contribute to secondary successions. Here, we investigated whether Arbutus unedo positively influences Quercus ilex establishment in shrub communities by abiotic and/or biotic interactions in a Mediterranean forest ecosystem, where we previously showed that A. unedo and Q. ilex share numerous species of mycorrhizal fungi. In a first field experiment, patterns of Q. ilex survivorship were documented. During the summer following germination, a majority of seedlings survived in A. unedo chaparral (AU), whereas most of them died in previous succession stages dominated by Erica arborea (EA). These results showed that survival of the Q. ilex seedling is succession stage dependent, probably due to the differential effects of the summer drought. In a second experiment, Q. ilex seedlings were used as bait plants to investigate the mycorrhizal inoculum in EA and AU. Morphotyping and molecular typing revealed 2.5 times higher colonization in AU than in EA, with more diverse fungi. Our results demonstrate that A. unedo facilitates mycorrhization of Q. ilex by hosting compatible ectomycorrhizal symbionts and positively influences seedling survival by buffering abiotic conditions. A comprehensive understanding of facilitation should thus include investigations of the soil biological patterns.

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