, Volume 340, Issue 1-2, pp 491-504
Date: 03 Nov 2010

Soil microbial communities from an elevational cline differ in their effect on conifer seedling growth

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Sub-alpine environments consist of altitudinal gradients associated with dramatic changes in plant growth and community composition, but the role of soil feedbacks and microbe interactions is largely unknown. Here, we examine the influence of the overall soil microbial community, with a focus on ectomycorrhizal and dark septate endophytic root colonizing fungi, from low, mid, and high elevations on the growth of Pinus contorta and Picea glauca × engelmannii. The influence of the soil microbial community was tested on seedlings from the same three elevations in order to determine ‘home’ versus ‘away’ effects on conspecifics of differing elevations. The low elevation soil was the most fertile and harbored a soil microbial community with an overall negative effect on seedling growth. In contrast, the high elevation soil was the least fertile and had a microbial community that enhanced seedling growth. However, only the soil microbial community in the highest elevation soil resulted in a stronger influence on the native P. contorta seedlings than seedlings originating from lower elevations. Despite the overall influence of the soil microbial community, ectomycorrhizal colonization was significantly correlated with P. glauca × engelmannii growth rates, but colonization by dark septate endophytes showed no relationship with seedling growth. The results provide evidence that plant—soil microbial community relationships are dependent on soil environment. Moreover, our results provide further support for the importance of soil microbes in facilitating seedling growth toward the edge of their elevational range.

Responsible Editor: Hans Lambers.