Seedling performance in a dioecious tree species is similar near female and male conspecific adults despite differences in colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungiJenalle L. Eck, Camille S. Delavaux, Dara M. Wilson, Simon A. Queenborough, Liza S. Comita
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Plant–soil feedbacks (PSFs) are a key driver of species diversity and composition in plant communities worldwide; however, the factors that may cause feedbacks to vary within species are rarely examined. In dioecious species, the strength of feedbacks may differ near female plants that produce seed versus near male plants (which do not) because repeated inputs of seeds and high seedling densities near females may cause accumulation of host‐specific soil microbes that influence seedling performance. To test whether conspecific seedling performance is reduced near seed‐producing female trees relative to male or heterospecific trees, we conducted shadehouse and field experiments with a dioecious tropical tree species, Virola surinamensis (Myristicaceae), on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. The shadehouse experiment isolated the effect of soil microbial communities on seedling growth and allowed us to quantify colonization by mutualistic arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, while the field experiment allowed us to assess seedling survival and growth in the presence of nearby conspecific adults and seedlings. In both experiments, seedling performance was similar between seedlings grown in the soil microbial communities and field environments underneath female conspecific, male conspecific, and heterospecific trees. However, contrary to expectation, seedling colonization by AM fungi was higher in male conspecific soil microbial communities than in female or heterospecific soil microbial communities at the end of the shadehouse experiment. Together, our experiments show that while differences among female and male plants in dioecious species may influence the association of conspecific seedlings with AM fungi in their soils, this variation does not necessarily translate directly to differences in seedling performance, at least over the time frame of our experiments. Studies of additional dioecious species are needed to help determine differences in soil microbial communities beneath male and female plants and to assess the role of seed input versus adult root systems in driving PSFs.