Root flavonoids are related to enhanced AMF colonization of an invasive tree.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are important mutualistic microbes in soil, which have capacity to form mutualistic associations with most land plants. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi play an important role in plant invasions and their interactions with invasive plants have received increasing attention. However, the chemical mechanisms underlying the interactions of AMF and invasive plants are still poorly understood. In this study we aim to test whether root secondary chemicals are related to enhanced AMF colonization and rapid growth in an invasive tree. We conducted a common garden experiment in China with Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera) to examine the relationships among AMF colonization and secondary metabolites in roots of plants from introduced (USA) and native (China) populations. We found that AMF colonization rate was higher in introduced populations compared to native populations. Roots of plants from introduced populations had lower levels of phenolics and tannins, but higher levels of flavonoids than those of plants from native populations. Flavonoids were positively correlated with AMF colonization, and this relationship was especially strong for introduced populations. Besides, AMF colonization was positively correlated with plant biomass suggesting that higher root flavonoids and AMF colonization may impact plant performance. This suggests that higher root flavonoids in plants from introduced populations may promote AMF spore germination and/or attract hyphae to their roots, which may subsequently increase plant growth. Overall, our results support a scenario in which invasive plants enhance their AMF association and invasion success via genetic changes in their root flavonoid metabolism. These findings advance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying plant invasion success and the evolutionary interactions between plants and AMF. Understanding such mechanisms of invasive plant success is critical for predicting and managing plant invasions in addition to providing important insights into the chemical mechanism of AMF-plant interactions.