Could native woody plant species facilitate the invasion of non-native congeneric plants mediated by ectomycorrhizal symbionts?

Nahuel Policelli
Nahuel Policelli
PATAGONIA, ARGENTINA
project abstract

The goal of this project is to understand whether non-native invasive plants are able to successfully displace native congeners by interacting with their native obligate symbionts: ectomycorrhizal fungi. The project will take place in the eastern region of Patagonia, Argentina, a steppe ecosystem, dominated by xerophytic herbaceous and shrubby plants. Even when the steppe is the dominant ecosystem in the southern cone of South America, belowground studies in Patagonia drylands are underrepresented compared to Andean temperate forests. We will sample soil under native and non-native invasive riparian populations of Salix spp. (willows). These tree species are the only ectomycorrhizal hosts in this habitat, which constitutes the limit of their southern distribution, where mutualisms are expected to be key for their establishment and survival.  Studying whether invasive plant species can interact with native fungi and the potential changes in the native fungal community driven by invasions, will shed light into previously overlooked belowground impacts of plant invasions in the steppe and open new management possibilities, helping to prevent economic and biodiversity losses. We will actively work with local stakeholders, the private sector, and local and native communities, increasing the awareness of the fungal component of invasions and encouraging them to get involved in the idea that fungi can also be invasive and that we need to protect native funga from degradation.