Impact of competition and mycorrhizal fungi on growth of Centaurea stoebe, an invasive plant of sand dunes.
Soil biota such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) have been shown to increase invasive plant species success in a wide variety of systems by providing both direct and indirect benefits to the invader. For example, Centaurea stoebe invasion in the western US is at least partially due to AMF networks allowing Centaurea to parasitize some native plant species. Centaurea also invades sand dune systems of the northern Great Lakes region, which often have reduced or altered soil communities compared to other grasslands. In these habitats, AMF may play a different role in invasion success of this species. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to compare effects of soil biota and AMF on competitive interactions between Centaurea and two varieties of Ammophila breviligulata, a dominant native grass of Great Lakes sand dunes. We found that Centaurea growth was slowed by the presence of Ammophila competitors, while AMF had no direct or indirect effect on growth. Both Ammophila varieties were uninhibited by the presence of Centaurea. The commercially available Cape variety of Ammophila had more than twice the inhibitory effect of a native Michigan variety on Centaurea growth. It does not appear that Centaurea takes advantage of AMF networks in this dune system. Indeed, since Centaurea growth is actually reduced in direct competition with Ammophila, we suspect that invasion of dunes by this species is a result of disturbance. For land managers, planting Ammophila in open areas as part of a restoration plan may slow spread of Centaurea in this system.