Post-fire seedlings of Nothofagus alpina in Southern Chile show strong dominance of a single ectomycorrhizal fungus and a vertical shift in root architecture

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We investigated belowground responses of Nothofagus alpina seedlings to post-fire conditions during natural regeneration after a wildfire in Chile, focusing on mycorrhizal community and root architecture. The complete root systems of 2-year-old N. alpina seedlings were extracted from a post-fire site with natural regeneration and compared to roots of seedlings from undisturbed forest nearby. Mycorrhizal morphotype richness was determined in each seedling. Morphometric parameters of tertiary root structure and dry biomass of whole root systems were determined in 5 cm vertical intervals and in four lateral root classes. With 43.5% of colonized vital mycorrhizal root tips, the Basidiomycete Descolea antarctica was the most abundant fungal symbiont on post-fire seedlings. Tertiary root morphology of these seedlings was distinct from control plants and characterized by a deep-reaching tap root with rather evenly distributed lateral branches whereas seedlings from the undisturbed site had shallower root systems with most lateral roots concentrated in the upper soil layers. Post-fire seedlings had more mycorrhizal rootlets and mycorrhiza-bearing third order lateral roots than control plants which was expressed in a 34% higher total root number but only a 10% higher total root biomass, although both values were not statistically significant. A major part of these fine roots in seedlings from burnt forest was found in deeper soil horizons, compared to the seedlings from undisturbed forest. According to our results, post-fire conditions clearly favour Descolea antarctica as an early ectomycorrhizal colonizer of Nothofagus seedlings at the studied site. As no significant changes in soil chemistry could be observed at the burnt site, the deep-reaching tertiary root architecture of these seedlings may be interpreted as a response to other abiotic factors like reduced moisture in surface soil.

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