New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2012) 36(2): 210-215

Quantification of mycorrhizal limitation in beech spread

Research Article
Ian A. Dickie 1,*
Murray Davis 2
Fiona E. Carswell 1
  1. Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
  2. Scion, PO Box 29237, Fendalton, Christchurch 8540, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Establishment of Nothofagus spp. into grasslands can be limited by a lack of ectomycorrhizal inoculum, but the degree of mycorrhizal inoculum limitation and how far mycorrhizal inoculum spreads from forest edges has not been quantified. Further, it has been hypothesised, but not confirmed, that established Kunzea ericoides (a native Myrtaceae tree with both ectomycorrhizal and arbuscular mycorrhizal associations) could serve as an alternative host for ectomycorrhizal fungi and thus facilitate mycorrhizal infection of Nothofagus. To confirm and quantify these hypotheses, first we used an ex situ, intact-soil-core bioassay of soils collected near Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides forest, near established Kunzea, and in grassland distant from trees of either species. Second, we collected soils along transects of increasing distance from Nothofagus forest into adjacent grasslands. Mycorrhizal infection of Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides seedlings was high in soils from Near-Nothofagus and Near-Kunzea (74% and 67% of root tips, respectively) and lower in soils Distant from trees (28% of root tips). Seedlings in soils from Near-Nothofagus also had 3.4× greater biomass than those in soils Distant from trees. In the transects, mycorrhizal infection declined in a stepwise fashion at approximately 16 m distance from the forest edge, and seedling biomass was positively correlated with mycorrhizal infection. These data confirm that a lack of mycorrhizal inoculum can limit seedling establishment and show that Kunzea can provide an alternative host for Nothofagus-compatible mycorrhizal inoculum. Further, they provide quantitative data for spatially explicit models of woody establishment. Forty percent of seedlings in soils collected distant from trees had greater than 20% infection, suggesting that a lack of mycorrhizal inoculum is not a complete barrier to woody establishment, but instead may act as one of multiple environmental filters slowing beech spread.