Contrasting effects of ectomycorrhizal and arbuscular mycorrhizal tropical tree species on soil nitrogen cycling: the potential mechanisms and corresponding adaptive strategies

6 October 2017

Lin, Guigang; Guo, Dali; Li, Liang; Ma, Chengen; Zeng, De-Hui

While it is increasingly recognized that ectomycorrhizal (ECM) and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) tree species vary in their effects on soil nitrogen (N) cycling, little is known about the mechanisms causing and how ECM and AM trees adapt to this variation. Using monoculture plots of six ECM and eight AM tropical trees planted in a common garden, we examined whether the contrasting effects of ECM and AM trees on soil N cycling could be explained by their differences in plant traits. Furthermore, rhizosphere effects on soil N transformations and soil exploration by fine roots were also measured to assess whether ECM and AM trees differed in N acquisition capacities. Results showed that soil NH4+-N concentration, net N mineralization and net nitrification rates were markedly lower, but soil C:N ratio was significantly higher beneath ECM trees than beneath AM trees. This more closed N cycling caused by ECM trees was attributed to their resource-conservative traits, especially the poorer leaf litter decomposability compared with AM trees. To adapt to their induced lower soil N availability, ECM trees were found to have greater rhizosphere effects on NO3--N concentration, net N mineralization and net nitrification rates to mine N, and higher soil exploration in terms of root length density to scavenge N from soils, indicating that these two strategies work in synergy to meet N demand of ECM trees. These findings suggest that ECM and AM trees have contrasting effects on soil N cycling owing to their differences in leaf litter decomposability and correspondingly possess different N acquisition capacities.