Thinning is an effective method to create mixed hardwood-conifer forests, as it results in successful hardwood recruitment. However, it remains unclear to what extent mycorrhizal association (AM, or arbuscular mycorrhizae vs. ECM, ectomycorrhizae) affects hardwood recruitment. In this study, we explored which hardwood mycorrhizal type was more advantageous to recruit into a Cryptomeria japonica (AM conifer) plantation. We compared seedling recruitment success (i.e. seedling emergence, survival, and growth) between AM and ECM hardwoods during five years after thinning at various levels: 67% thinned (intensive), 33% thinned (weak) and un-thinned treatments (control). We also investigated the percent colonization of mycorrhizal fungi for the seedlings of the most dominant AM (Cornus controversa) and ECM (Quercus serrata) hardwoods in both the C. japonica plantation and an adjacent forest dominated by ECM tree species (e.g. Q. serrata, Alnus hirsuta var. sibirica, Castanea crenata). During the five years, seedling emergence and survival were greater in AM than ECM for most of the different emergence cohorts, resulting in a greater number of individuals for AM rather than ECM hardwoods for all thinning intensities. Vertical growth of the seedlings was also greater for AM than ECM species, particularly for early emerging cohorts in both the weak and intensive treatments. Percent colonization of AM fungi to AM seedlings was greater in the AM conifer plantation than in the adjacent ECM-dominant forest. In contrast, percent colonization of ECM fungi to ECM-type seedlings was lower in the plantation compared to the adjacent forest. These results suggest that AM hardwoods could easily be recruited to AM conifer plantations, probably due to the fact that AM-type seedlings could easily become associated with AM fungi in the same mycorrhizal-type plantation. Growth of the AM seedlings was enhanced, which was likely to be due to the sharing of AM fungi, which translocate nutrients via hyphal networks. In contrast, recruitment of ECM-type seedlings was strongly inhibited, probably due to the lack of colonization of the ECM fungi in the AM-type plantation. This study demonstrates that mycorrhizal associations play an important role in recruitment success of hardwoods into AM conifer plantations. Thus, when forest managers intend to convert conifer plantations to mixed hardwood and conifer forests, they should consider the role of mycorrhizal fungal type in future species composition.
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