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Experimental warming decreases arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonization in prairie plants along a Mediterranean climate gradient

Wilson, H., B. R. Johnson, B. Bohannan, L. Pfeifer-Meister, R. Mueller andS. D. Bridgham. 2016. PeerJ

Abstract

Background: Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) provide numerous services to their plant symbionts. Understanding climate change effects on AMF, and the resulting plant responses, is crucial for predicting ecosystem responses at regional and global scales. We investigated how the effects of climate change on AMF-plant symbioses are mediated by soil water availability, soil nutrient availability, and vegetation dynamics. Methods: We used a combination of a greenhouse experiment and a manipulative climate change experiment embedded within a Mediterranean climate gradient in the Pacific Northwest, USA to examine this question. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to determine the direct and indirect effects of experimental warming on AMF colonization. Results: Warming directly decreased AMF colonization across plant species and across the climate gradient of the study region. Other positive and negative indirect effects of warming, mediated by soil water availability, soil nutrient availability, and vegetation dynamics, canceled each other out. Discussion: A warming-induced decrease in AMF colonization would likely have substantial consequences for plant communities and ecosystem function. Moreover, predicted increases in more intense droughts and heavier rains for this region could shift the balance among indirect causal pathways, and either exacerbate or mitigate the negative, direct effect of increased temperature on AMF colonization.

Key Words

Mediterranean, Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, Plant-nutrient interactions, Climate change, Structural equation models, Experimental warming, Nutrient availability, Pacific Northwest