AIMS Microbiology, 2018, 4(1): 104-122. doi: 10.3934/microbiol.2018.1.104

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Interactions between ectomycorrhizal fungi and chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) on American chestnut (Castanea dentata) used in coal mine restoration

1 Western Washington University, Huxley College of the Environment, Bellingham, Washington, 98225, USA
2 Muskingum University, 163 Stormont Street, New Concord, Ohio, 43762, USA

Plant and fungal interactions drive successional trajectories within reforestation offering both mutualisms (ectomycorrhizal fungi [ECM]) and fungal pathogens. Appalachian forest and mine reclamation projects re-introducing American chestnut and chestnut hybrids will inevitably document the return of chestnut blight, resulting in cankers causing branch dieback and loss of photosynthetic tissue. Similar to herbivory, the loss of photosynthetic tissue may reduce ECM root colonization and cause changes in fungal species composition. To test this, 75 six-year-old established chestnut trees were selected to represent the following: (1) Healthy trees free of chestnut blight; (2) trees with cankers and 50% branch dieback; (3) trees that died prior to the fifth growing season. Each tree had a chestnut seed planted 24 cm from the base. ECM colonization of both the established parent trees (n = 50) and five-month-old seedlings (n = 64) were quantified and genera determined by fungal DNA sequencing of the internal transcribed (ITS) region. Healthier seven-year-old chestnuts trees had significantly more ECM roots than those trees infected with chestnut blight cankers. However, disease die-back on chestnut did not have an influence on community composition among the parent trees or the neighboring five month seedlings. Results also demonstrated that five-month-old seedlings neighboring healthy parent trees had greater ECM on roots (P = 0.002), were larger in size (P = 0.04), and had greater survival (P = 0.01). ECM genera such as Cortinarius, Russula and Scleroderma provided tree to seedling inoculation. ECM colonization by Cortinarius spp. resulted in larger chestnut plants and increased nitrogen foliar concentrations on the five month seedlings. It can be hypothesized that blight will aid in diversifying forest stand composition and these early ECM networks will help facilitate the survival of other native hardwoods that recruit into these sites over time.
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