Quercus rubra-associated ectomycorrhizal fungal communities of disturbed urban sites and mature forests

Amy S Karpati, Steven N Handel, John Dighton, Thomas R Horton
Mycorrhiza 2011, 21 (6): 537-547
The presence and quality of the belowground mycorrhizal fungal community could greatly influence plant community structure and host species response. This study tests whether mycorrhizal fungal communities in areas highly impacted by anthropogenic disturbance and urbanization are less species rich or exhibit lower host root colonization rates when compared to those of less disturbed systems. Using a soil bioassay, we sampled the ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) communities associating with Quercus rubra (northern red oak) seedlings in soil collected from seven sites: two mature forest reference sites and five urban sites of varying levels of disturbance. Morphological and polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses of fungi colonizing root tips revealed that colonization rates and fungal species richness were significantly lower on root systems of seedlings grown in disturbed site soils. Analysis of similarity showed that EMF community composition was not significantly different among several urban site soils but did differ significantly between mature forest sites and all but one urban site. We identified a suite of fungal species that occurred across several urban sites. Lack of a diverse community of belowground mutualists could be a constraint on urban plant community development, especially of late-successional woodlands. Analysis of urban EMF communities can add to our understanding of urban plant community structure and should be addressed during ecological assessment before pragmatic decisions to restore habitats are framed.

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