A series of microcosm experiments was established to investigate the effects of simulated acid rain on the capacity of three arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) to germinate and colonize two grasses, Calamagrostis villosa and Deschampsia flexuosa. These two grasses are normally found in degraded Norway spruce forests in the Northern Czech Republic where acid rain pollution exists and C. villosa initially outcompetes D. flexuosa for the same niche. An AM fungus isolated from acid soils (Acaulospora tuberculata BEG41) was more tolerant of acidification than two species of Glomus (isolated from agricultural soils of neutral pH) in microcosm studies. Different effects of simulated acid rain (SAR) were found at all stages of the development of three AMF studied in model systems, including spore germination, colonization of host roots, and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and NADH diaphorase activity of the extraradical mycelium. No ALP activity was found in hyphae germinating from the spores without plants whereas it was detected in all hyphae linked to a functioning intraradical mycelium.
Simulated acid rain also affected the mycorrhizal growth response and belowground competition of the two grasses. Disturbance of the ERM between the two plant species significantly reduced the growth of C. villosa but not D. flexuosa. Disturbance also decreased root colonization by AMF of both plants, the total length of ERM and the total length of extraradical hyphae with ALP and NADH diaphorase activity adjacent to both plants. D. flexuosa appeared less dependent on the mycorrhizal state, for shoot and root growth, than C. villosa under the experimental conditions. The ability, therefore, of C. villosa to thrive in forest stands suffering from acid rain pollution may be related to this dependence on its mycorrhizal hyphal links to D. flexuosa under the environmental conditions produced by the pollution including higher light levels.