Inoculation with native mycorrhizae may be beneficial to restorations. However, we have limited knowledge of the interactions between native plant and fungal communities and abiotic stresses in field conditions. In this study, we used mycorrhizal inoculum from an eastern and a more western tallgrass prairie in Kansas. The two prairies are separated by less than 160 km and have an approximately 20 percent difference in annual rainfall. We paired by genus or family, five plant species native to the drier prairie with five plant species native to the moister prairie. We compared height and survival of the paired species after inoculation with mycorrhizal fungal communities matched either to their native ecosystem or to their partner’s ecosystem, or with sterilized soil. The inoculated plants were then transplanted to restoration-seeded study plots, which were manipulated to create either moister or drier conditions similar to the origins of the plant species and mycorrhizal communities.
We found that there are differences between more eastern (moister) and more western (drier) occurring groups of plant and fungal species interactions. We found evidence for local adaptation between plant species and fungal community in native prairie plants. Specifically, the more western plant species responded better to inoculation with AMF from the more western prairie. We also found evidence that there are substantially different interactions between plants, AMF, and moisture conditions. The western plant species from a drier prairie were in general more dependent on inoculation for survival. Western plants not only survived better in home inoculum, but also the effect was pronounced in dry conditions as compared to moist conditions. These results indicate that matching of fungal and plant communities for restoration may be important at a relatively fine geographic scale, especially for communities in a stressed environment.