, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 39–49 | Cite as

Can arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi from non-invaded montane ecosystems facilitate the growth of alien trees?

  • Carlos UrcelayEmail author
  • Silvana Longo
  • József Geml
  • Paula A. Tecco
Original Article


It is generally assumed that recruitment and expansion of alien species along elevation gradients are constrained by climate. But, if plants are not fully constrained by climate, their expansion could be facilitated or hindered by other factors such as biotic interactions. Here, we assessed the composition of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in soils along an elevation gradient (i.e. 900 m, 1600 m, 2200 m and 2700 m a.s.l.) through a fungal DNA meta-barcoding approach. In addition, we studied in the greenhouse the effects of AMF on growth and phosphorous (P) nutrition of seedlings of the alien trees Gleditsia triacanthos, Ligustrum lucidum and Pyracantha angustifolia cultivated in soils from those elevations, spanning the elevation at which they already form monospecific stands (below 1450 m a.s.l.) and higher elevations, above their current range of distribution in montane ecosystems of Central Argentina. For comparison, we also included in the experiment the dominant native tree Lithraea molleoides that historically occurs below 1300 m a.s.l. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal community composition showed strong community turnover with increasing elevation. The effects of these AMF communities on plant growth and nutrition differed among native and alien trees. While P nutrition in alien species’ seedlings was generally enhanced by AMF along the whole gradient, the native species benefited only from AMF that occur in soils from the elevation corresponding to its current altitudinal range of distribution. These results suggest that AMF might foster upper range expansion of these invasive trees over non-invaded higher elevations.


Belowground microorganisms DNA meta-barcoding Invasion ecology Montane ecosystems 



The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) and the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (U.N.C.), both of which have provided facilities used for this study. The soil DNA meta-barcoding work was sponsored by a Naturalis Research Initiative grant awarded to J. Geml. We also thank the land owners (J. Astrada, J.C., M. Chuit and R. Olguín) who generously provided access to the study site and allowed us to establish long-term exclosures in their properties and M. Cabido and M. Giorgis for the floristic relevés. C.U., S.L. and P.A.T. are the researchers of CONICET and professors at the U.N.C. David Janos and the two anonymous reviewers provided critical comments and suggestions that improved the quality of this manuscript.

Funding information

This research program is funded by the Secretaría de Ciencia y Tecnología - Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Secyt) (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba) and the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología de Córdoba.

Supplementary material

572_2018_874_MOESM1_ESM.docx (67 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 67 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Urcelay
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Silvana Longo
    • 1
    • 2
  • József Geml
    • 3
  • Paula A. Tecco
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (CONICET)Universidad Nacional de CórdobaCórdobaArgentina
  2. 2.Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y NaturalesUniversidad Nacional de CórdobaCórdobaArgentina
  3. 3.Naturalis Biodiversity CenterLeidenThe Netherlands

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