Effects of a Companion Plant on the Formation of Mycorrhizal Propagules in Artemisia tridentata Seedlings

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Inoculation of seedlings with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can increase their establishment after outplanting. The success of this practice depends partly on the extent of root colonization and abundance of AMF propagules in the outplanted seedlings. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to investigate the effects of a companion plant, the native grass Poa secunda J Presl (Sandberg bluegrass), on the formation of spores and vesicles, AMF colonization, and AMF taxa present in the roots of the shrub Artemisia tridentata Nutt (big sagebrush). These effects were tested at two phosphorus (P) fertilization levels, 5 μM and 250 μM. Neither coplanting nor differences in P had an effect on spore density in the potting mix. In contrast, coplanting increased vesicular colonization of A. tridentata from 5% to 18%, but only at low P. Differences in P also affected vesicular colonization of P. secunda, which was 10% and 30% at high and low P, respectively. Arbuscular colonization of A. tridentata was not affected by the treatments and ranged between 12% and 20%. In P. secunda, arbuscular colonization was lower but increased from high to low P. Coplanted seedlings exposed to low P also had the highest levels of total AMF colonization, 70% for A. tridentata and 63% for P. secunda. On the basis of partial sequences of the 28S ribosomal RNA gene, coplanting did not affect the AMF taxa, which were within the Glomeraceae. In some taxa within this family, root fragments containing vesicles are the main propagules. Particularly in this situation, increases in vesicle density caused by coplanting and low P are likely to facilitate mycorrhization of A. tridentata after outplanting, resulting in higher levels of colonization than those naturally occurring in the soil. Such outcomes are critical for assessing the extent to which A. tridentata establishment is limited by insufficient AMF colonization.