In a shadehouse experiment we tested the effects of light, nutrients and ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) on the growth of Vatica albiramis van Slooten (Dipterocarpaceae) seedlings. We hypothesised that it is more advantageous for plants to form connections with EMF and to trade carbon for nutrients with EMF under high light than low light. The relationship between seedling growth and the proportion of ectomycorrhizal root tips was expected as positive in high light and as negative in low light. Light conditions simulated the forest understory (low; 3% full sunlight), a small gap (medium; 11%) and a large gap (high; 33%) and a fully factorial combination of nutrients (F−/+) and ectomycorrhizal colonization (EMF−/+) treatments were applied within light conditions. The application of EMF and nutrients did significantly alter seedling growth across the range of forest floor light conditions, however the key hypothesis was rejected as seedling growth under low light was not affected by increased EMF colonization of root tips (light:EMF colonization χ2 = 2.97, p = 0.23). In addition, the lack of difference in morphotype abundance across light conditions indicated that light changes may not favour the association to specific EMF in seedlings of this particular dipterocarp species. Our results suggest that antagonistic (non-beneficial to the plant) effects due to ectomycorrhizal colonization under a light constrained environment may not affect seedling growth of Vatica albiramis.
Electronic supplementary material: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11104-010-0555-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.