Do soil inoculants accelerate dryland restoration? A simultaneous assessment of biocrusts and mycorrhizal fungi

V. Bala Chaudhary, Kristine Akland, Nancy C. Johnson, Matthew A. Bowker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are communities of soil organisms often targeted to assist in the achievement of multiple ecological restoration goals. In drylands, benefits conferred from biocrust and AM fungal inoculation, such as improved native plant establishment and soil stabilization, have primarily been studied separately. However, comparisons between these two types of soil inoculants and investigations into potential synergies between them, particularly at the plant community scale, are needed to inform on-the-ground management practices in drylands. We conducted two full-factorial experiments—one in greenhouse mesocosms and one in field plots—to test the effects of AM fungal inoculation, biocrust inoculation, and their interaction on multiple measures of dryland restoration success. Biocrust inoculation promoted soil stabilization and plant drought tolerance, but had mixed effects on native plant diversity (positive in greenhouse, neutral in field) and productivity (negative in greenhouse, neutral in field). In greenhouse mesocosms, biocrust inoculation reduced plant biomass, which was antagonistic to % root length colonized by AM fungi. Inoculation with native or commercial AM fungi did not influence plant establishment, drought tolerance, or soil stabilization in either study, and few synergistic effects of simultaneous inoculation of AM fungi and biocrusts were observed. These results suggest that, depending on the condition of existing soil communities, inoculation with AM fungi may not be necessary to promote dryland restoration goals, while inoculation with salvaged biocrust inoculation may be beneficial in some contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRestoration Ecology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

Keywords

  • arid
  • community
  • diversity
  • drought
  • inoculation
  • invasive species
  • microbe
  • soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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