Herbivore removal reduces influence of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on plant growth and tolerance in an East African savanna

Jonathan B. González*, Renee H. Petipas, Oscar Franken, E. Toby Kiers, Kari E. Veblen, Alison K. Brody

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The functional relationship between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and their hosts is variable on small spatial scales. Here, we hypothesized that herbivore exclusion changes the AMF community and alters the ability of AMF to enhance plant tolerance to grazing. We grew the perennial bunchgrass, Themeda triandra Forssk in inoculum from soils collected in the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment where treatments representing different levels of herbivory have been in place since 1995. We assessed AMF diversity in the field, using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and compared fungal diversity among treatments. We conducted clipping experiments in the greenhouse and field and assessed regrowth. Plants inoculated with AMF from areas accessed by wild herbivores and cattle had greater biomass than non-inoculated controls, while plants inoculated with AMF from where large herbivores were excluded did not benefit from AMF in terms of biomass production. However, only the inoculation with AMF from areas with wild herbivores and no cattle had a positive effect on regrowth, relative to clipped plants grown without AMF. Similarly, in the field, regrowth of plants after clipping in areas with only native herbivores was higher than other treatments. Functional differences in AMF were evident despite little difference in AMF species richness or community composition. Our findings suggest that differences in large herbivore communities over nearly two decades has resulted in localized, functional changes in AMF communities. Our results add to the accumulating evidence that mycorrhizae are locally adapted and that functional differences can evolve within small geographical areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-133
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1-May-2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Below and aboveground interactions
  • Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE)
  • Local adaptation
  • Simulated herbivory

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