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Invasive species harms native hardwoods by killing soil fungus

[Massachusetts] An invasive weed that has spread across much of the U.S. harms native maples, ashes, and other hardwood trees by releasing chemicals harmful to a soil fungus the trees depend on for growth and survival, scientists report this week in the Public Library of Science. The tree-stifling alien, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), first introduced into the U.S. in the 1860s, has since spread to Canada and 30 states in the East and Midwest, with recent sightings as far west as Oregon. … this new work is the first to show that an invasive plant harms native plants by thwarting the biological “friends” upon which they depend for growth. Stinson and her colleagues found that garlic mustard targets arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which form mutually beneficial relationships with many forest trees. These fungi have long filaments that penetrate the roots of plants, forming an intricate interwoven network that effectively extends the plant’s root system. AMF depend on plants for energy and plants depend on the fungi for nutrients.

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