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Establishment success and crop growth effects of an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus inoculated into Swiss corn fields

Bender, S. Franz, Schlaeppi, Klaus, Held, Alain, Van der Heijden, Marcel G.A.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.273 pp. 13-24
community structure, corn, crop yield, ecosystems, environmental management, fertilizer application, inoculum, mycorrhizal fungi, phosphorus, phosphorus fertilizers, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, roots, sequence analysis, soil, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae
A major strategy to increase the sustainability of agricultural systems consists of enhancing internal ecosystem processes that support crop production and reduce external resource inputs. However, specific approaches to achieve this goal still need to be identified. Here, we investigated whether inoculation with a high dose of a well-characterized strain of a plant symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungus into Swiss corn fields leads to successful establishment of the fungus in plant roots and can generate agronomic benefits for maize production.We used single-molecule real-time (SMRT) DNA sequencing to assess community composition of native AM fungi and identified environmental management and biological factors affecting AM fungal abundance, establishment success of the introduced fungus and effects of AMF inoculation on corn yield.While native AM fungal abundance was negatively related to soil P contents, we found significantly positive relationships between soil P contents and establishment success of the inoculated fungus. There was a significantly negative relationship between inoculum establishment and abundance of native AM fungi. Although molecular quantification using strain-specific qPCR indicated that the inoculated strain strongly increased in abundance in roots from most soils investigated, total AM fungal root colonization was only significantly increased in one soil, indicating successful competition of the inoculant for root niche space against native AM fungi. Positive effects on corn yield were only observed when inoculation increased root colonization and were negatively correlated to P fertilization levels.The results imply that phosphorus plays a major role in defining the abundance of native AM fungi and the composition of their communities and that these effects can determine establishment success of the inoculant. The results further indicate that positive effects on crop yield may only be expected when potentially achievable root colonization levels are not yet reached and AMF communities are not well developed.