Emery, S. M., L. Bell-Dereske, K. A. Stahlheber, and K. L. Gross. 2022. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal community responses to drought and nitrogen fertilization in switchgrass stands. Applied Soil Ecology 169:104218.
Anthropogenic global change is increasing the severity and frequency of abiotic stresses such as drought that are likely to affect soil communities. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) play important roles in many soil processes, so it is important to understand how drought affects AMF biodiversity. This is especially relevant in agricultural systems where crops rely on AMF associations for water and nutrient uptake, and where management decisions such as crop selection and fertilizer application may influence how the AMF community responds to drought. In this study, we examined the effects of reduced precipitation and nitrogen fertilization on AMF richness, community composition, and root and soil colonization in monocultures of two cultivars of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) grown for bioenergy feedstock. We conducted a two-year field experiment using rain-out shelters to manipulate precipitation in mature stands of switchgrass growing in a long-term nitrogen fertilization (0 or 56 kg N ha−1) experiment at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research site in Michigan, USA. We expected that AMF richness and colonization would decrease due to drought, as predicted by the stress exclusion hypothesis. Contrary to our expectations, we found that drought stress increased AMF species richness in fertilized plots by 15%; there was no effect of drought on AMF richness in unfertilized plots. Drought also significantly altered AMF community composition, primarily due to increases in Rhizophagus taxa abundance, and reduced AMF root colonization in switchgrass by 6%. We also found variation in AMF richness and colonization across switchgrass cultivars as well as sampling dates. The changes in AMF richness and composition that we observed in this study may have implications for perennial bioenergy feedstock selection and management as changes in AMF communities may feedback to affect host plants.
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