Growth responses to arbuscular mycorrhizae by rain forest seedlings vary with light intensity and tree species

Catherine A. Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Light intensity and root colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are considered important factors affecting the performance of rain forest plants, yet few studies have examined how these two factors interact. Whether AM colonization promoted growth or caused shifts in biomass allocation in seedlings of four species of Australian rain forest tree (Flindersia brayleana, Acmena resa, Cryptocarya mackinnoniana and Cryptocarya angulata), grown in a glasshouse under light conditions that mimicked the shaded understory (3% PAR) and small light gaps (10% PAR), was examined. Seedlings were grown in sterilized field soil and either inoculated with AM fungi or provided sterile inoculum. Four major findings emerged. First, in all species, seedlings grown in small gap light intensities were larger than seedlings grown in understory light intensities. Second, when seedling biomass was included as a covariate, variation in light intensity was associated with significant shifts in biomass allocation. In all species, leaf area ratio was lower at 10% PAR than at 3% PAR, while root-to-shoot ratio showed the opposite pattern in one of the four species (C. mackinonniana). Third, although percentage root length colonized by AM fungi was greater at 10% PAR than 3% PAR in all species, this difference could be accounted for by variation in seedling size in all species except C. angulata. Fourth, growth and biomass allocation responses to AM colonization varied with light intensity and plant species. AM colonization promoted growth in both light regimes only in F. brayleana, while it had no effect on growth in C. mackinnoniana and C. angulata in either light regime and promoted growth only under high light in A. resa. AM colonization had no effect on leaf area ratio or root-to-shoot ratio in any of the species, and significantly altered specific root length in only one of the four species (C. mackinnoniana). These findings suggest that rain forest seedlings are highly variable in their growth responses to AM colonization and that some of this variability is related to the light intensity of the environment. Given that seedlings may spend many years in the shaded understory, these differences among species could have important effects on long-term seedling performance and seedling community dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-139
Number of pages13
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizae
  • Biomass allocation
  • Light gap
  • Rain forest
  • Seedling
  • Shaded understory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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