Although mycorrhizas are expected to play a key role in community assembly during ecological succession, little is known about the dynamics of the symbiotic partners in natural systems. For instance, it is unclear how efficiently plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi disperse into early successional ecosystems, and which, if either, symbiotic partner drives successional dynamics. This study describes the dynamics of plant and AM fungal communities, assesses correlation in the composition of plant and AM fungal communities and compares dispersal limitation of plants and AM fungi during succession. We studied gravel pits 20 and 50 years post abandonment and undisturbed grasslands in Western Estonia. The composition of plant and AM fungal communities was strongly correlated, and the strength of the correlation remained unchanged as succession progressed, indicating a stable dependence among mycorrhizal plants and AM fungi. A relatively high proportion of the AM fungal taxon pool was present in early successional sites, in comparison with the respective fraction of plants. These results suggest that AM fungi arrived faster than plants and may thus drive vegetation dynamics along secondary vegetation succession.
One sentence summary: Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are efficient colonizers during succession and exhibit lower dispersal limitation than plants. Allied with correlated community composition, this suggests that AM fungi are important drivers of plant communities.