New research published by a team of scientists from the USDA Forest Service and Purdue University suggests that tiny soil fungi that help and are helped by trees may influence a forest's vulnerability to invasion by non-native plants. Research published on December 1, 2017 in the online edition of Ecology Letters suggests that the invasion of nonnative plants is strongly related to what type of mycorrhizal fungi are dominant in forest ecosystems. Mycorrhizal fungi are a type of fungi that help trees feed on minerals in the soil and, in turn, feed off sugars in tree roots. Lead author Dr. Insu Jo of Purdue University and his co-authors, including Dr. Grant Domke, a research forester with the Forest Service's Northern Research Station, explored how dominant forest tree mycorrhizal type affects understory plant invasions. Researchers found that arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) tree-dominant forests are more vulnerable to nonnative plant invasions than ectomycorrhizal (ECM) tree-dominant forests, likely because nutrients in the soil are consumed and recycled back into the soil more frequently in AM- dominant -forests, creating more nutrition for trees. Understory plant cover for both native and nonnative invasive species was positively associated with the AM fungi, however, invasive species cover increased at a rate 12 times greater than native species as AM-tree-dominance increased. The study, titled "Dominant Forest Tree Mycorrhizal Type Mediates Understory Plant Invasions," is available at: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/55479.
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