Associations among arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and seedlings are predicted to change with tree successional status
Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi in the soil may influence tropical tree dynamics and forest succession. The mechanisms are poorly understood, because the functional characteristics and abundances of tree species and AM fungi are likely to be codependent. We used generalized joint attribute modeling to evaluate if AM fungi are associated with three forest community metrics for a sub‐tropical montane forest in Puerto Rico. The metrics chosen to reflect changes during forest succession are the abundance of seedlings of different successional status, the amount of foliar damage on seedlings of different successional status, and community‐weighted mean functional trait values (adult specific leaf area [SLA], adult wood density, and seed mass). We used high‐throughput DNA sequencing to identify fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in the soil. Model predictions showed that seedlings of mid‐ and late‐successional species had less leaf damage when the 12 most common AM fungi were abundant compared to when these fungi were absent. We also found that seedlings of mid‐successional species were predicted to be more abundant when the 12 most common AM fungi were abundant compared to when these fungi were absent. In contrast, early‐successional tree seedlings were predicted to be less abundant when the 12 most common AM fungi were abundant compared to when these fungi were absent. Finally, we showed that, among the 12 most common AM fungi, different AM fungi were correlated with functional trait characteristics of early‐ or late‐successional species. Together, these results suggest that early‐successional species might not rely as much as mid‐ and late‐successional species on AM fungi, and AM fungi might accelerate forest succession.