Soil fungal networks moderate density-dependent survival and growth of seedlings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Minxia Liang
  • Liuqing Shi
  • David F. R. P. Burslem
  • Miao Fang
  • Xinyi Zhang
  • Shixiao Yu


Pathogenic and mutualistic fungi have contrasting effects on seedling establishment, but it remains unclear whether density-dependent survival and growth are regulated by access to different types of mycorrhizal fungal networks supported by neighbouring adult trees. Here, we conducted an extensive field survey to test how mycorrhizal and pathogenic fungal colonization of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) and ectomycorrhizal (ECM) seedlings in a subtropical forest respond to density of neighbouring adult trees. In addition, we undertook a hyphal exclusion experiment to explicitly test the role of soil fungal networks in driving density-dependent effects on seedling growth and survival. Conspecific adult density was a strong predictor for the relative abundance of putative pathogens, which was greater in roots of AM than of ECM seedlings, while mycorrhizal fungal abundance and colonization were not consistently affected by conspecific adult density. Both ECM and AM fungal networks counteracted conspecific density-dependent mortality, but ECM fungi were more effective at weakening the negative effects of high seedling density than AM fungi. Our findings reveal a critical role of common fungal networks in mitigating negative density-dependent effects of pathogenic fungi on seedling establishment, which provides mechanistic insights into how soil fungal diversity shapes plant community structure in subtropical forests.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2061-2071
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number5
Early online date28 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

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