The interaction of density and mycorrhizal effects on the growth, mineral nutrition and size distribution of seedlings of two perennial members of the Fabaceae was investigated in pot culture. Seedlings of Otholobium hirtum and Aspalathus linearis were grown at densities of 1, 4, 8 and 16 plants per 13-cm pot with or without vesicular-arbuscular (VA) mycorrhizal inoculum for 120 days. Plant mass, relative growth rates, height and leaf number all decreased with increasing plant density. This was ascribed to the decreasing availability of phosphorus per plant as density increased. O. hirtum was highly dependent on mycorrhizas for P uptake but both mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal A. linearis seedlings were able to extract soil P with equal ease. Plant size distribution as measured by the coefficient of variation (CV) of shoot mass was greater at higher densities. CVs of mycorrhizal O. hirtum plants were higher than those of non-mycorrhizal plants. CVs of the facultatively mycorrhizal A. linearis were similar for both mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal plants. Higher CVs are attributed to resource preemption by larger individuals. Individuals in populations with high CVs will probably survive stress which would result in the extinction of populations with low CVs. Mass of mycorrhizal plants of both species decreased more rapidly with increasing density than did non-mycorrhizal plant mass. It is concluded that the cost of being mycorrhizal increases as plant density increases, while the benefit decreases. The results suggest that mycorrhizas will influence density-dependent population processes of faculative and obligate mycorrhizal species.
Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizasDensitydependencePlant population dynamicsResource depletionPhosphorus