Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in the tree seedlings of two Australian rain forests: Occurrence, colonization, and relationships with plant performance

Catherine A. Gehring, Joseph H. Connell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The roots of rain forest plants are frequently colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) that can promote plant growth in the nutrient poor soils characteristic of these forests. However, recent studies suggest that both the occurrence of AMF on rain forest plants and the dependence of rain forest plants on AMF can be highly variable. We examined the occurrence and levels of AMF colonization of some common seedling species in a tropical and a subtropical rain forest site in Queensland, Australia. We also used a long-term database to compare the growth and mortality rates of seedling species that rarely formed AMF with those that regularly formed AMF. In both forests, more than one-third of the seedling species rarely formed AMF associations, while 40% of species consistently formed AMF in the tropical site compared to 27% in the subtropical site. Consistent patterns of AMF occurrence were observed among plant families at the two sites. Variation among seedling species in AMF occurrence or colonization was not associated with differences in seed mass among species, variation in seedling size and putative age within a species, or lack of AMF inoculum in the soil. Comparisons of four seedling species growing both in the shaded understory and in small canopy gaps revealed an increase in AMF colonization in two of the four species in gaps, suggesting that light limitation partially explains the low occurrence of AMF. Seedling survival was significantly positively associated with seed biomass but not with AMF colonization. Furthermore, seedling species that regularly formed AMF and those that did not had similar rates of growth and survival, suggesting that mycorrhizal and nonmycorrhizal strategies were equivalent in these forests. Furthermore, the high numbers of seedlings that lacked AMF and the overall low rate of seedling growth (the average seedling required 6 years to double its height) suggest that most seedlings did not receive significant indirect benefits from AMF through connection to canopy trees via a common mycorrhizal network.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-98
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Canopy gap
  • Common mycorrhizal network
  • Rain forest
  • Seedlings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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