Colored flags in the Biocore Prairie indicate locations where roots are being sampled from both nonnative weed species and prairie species to test for the presence of mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae fungi colonize the fine absorbing roots of many vascular plant species and derive most, if not all of their “food” supply (carbohydrates and amino acids) from the plants. In return, mycorrhizae aid the growth and development of their host plants by expanding the root surface area, improving phosphorus absorption, and water uptake. Most native prairie species have been found to form associations with mycorrhizae while non-native weed species lack this type of symbiosis.
In this study, plant roots at the Biocore Prairie restoration site are being compared with plant roots collected from an established restoration at the UW Arboretum (Curtis Prairie) for the presence of mycorrhizae. Our prediction is that the plant species collected at the Biocore Prairie will have less mycorrhizae associations than at Curtis Prairie. To test this prediction, root samples are washed and boiled in potassium hydroxide to clear all plant pigmentation. The roots are then stained with trypan blue which is specific to fungal cells. The presence of Vascular Arbuscular Mycorrhizae (VAM) on these roots is characterized by blue hyphal strands with irregular shape with cross walls, as well as circular vesicles and spores. Evidence for the presence of mycorrhizae at the Biocore Prairie will add to the restoration efforts and may help inform future site management.