, Volume 167, Issue 1, pp 149-155
Date: 06 Mar 2011

Does a facultative mutualism limit species range expansion?

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Abstract

The availability and quality of mutualists beyond a species’ range edge may limit range expansion. With the legume Chamaecrista fasciculata, we asked to what extent the availability and quality of rhizobia beyond the range edge limits host range expansion. We tested the effect of rhizobia availability on plant growth by transplanting seed from three locations into five sites spanning C. fasciculata’s range (interior, at the northern and western range edges, and beyond the range edges), and inoculating half the seeds with rhizobia. We recorded growth of all surviving plants, and, for the uninoculated plants, whether they had formed nodules or not. We isolated rhizobia from nodules collected on the uninoculated plants, and cross-inoculated seed from four populations (both range edge and interior populations) in the greenhouse to determine whether the quality of rhizobia differed between regions. We found that seeds transplanted beyond the range edge were less likely to be nodulated when they were not experimentally inoculated, and there was benefit to inoculation at all sites. In the greenhouse, the three inocula that formed nodules on plants, from the range interior, northern edge and beyond the northern edge, did not detectably differ in their effect on plant growth. These results suggest that low densities of suitable rhizobia beyond the range edge may limit range expansion of legume species.