While there has been much recent interest about the relationships between plant diversity and plant productivity, much remains unknown about how the diversity of mycorrhizal fungi affects plant productivity. We investigated the effects of ectomycorrhizal fungal community composition and diversity on the productivity and growth characteristics of seedlings of two tree species (Pinus sylvetris and Betula pendula) as well as their interactions with each other. This involved setting up a mycorrhizal fungal diversity gradient from one to eight species using a design previously demonstrated to be able to separate diversity effects from compositional effects. We found that the eight mycorrhizal fungal species differed in their effects on seedling productivity and that the nature of effects was determined by the fertility of the substrate. Fungal species richness effects were also important in affecting seedling productivity over and above what could be explained by "sampling effect" but only in some situations. For B. pendula in a low fertility substrate there were clear positive causative effects between fungal species richness and productivity with the eight species treatment having over double the productivity of any of the eight monoculture treatments; no diversity effects were, however, detected in a high fertility substrate. For P. sylvestris in a high fertility substrate there were significant negative effects of fungal diversity on productivity while in a low fertility substrate no effects were apparent. The possible mechanistic bases for these results are discussed. The growth of P. sylvestris relative to that of B. pendula when grown in combination was unaffected by mycorrhizal treatments. Our results provide clear evidence that effects of mycorrhizal fungal diversity on productivity are context dependent and may be positive, negative or neutral depending on the situation considered.
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