Recent research has highlighted the importance of soil biota in the establishment success of target plant species in restorations. This has led to restoration efforts that include soil amendments containing mycorrhizal fungi as well as other soil organisms. Although several studies have demonstrated interactions between plant species and soil biota, few studies have looked at interactions between plant variety and soil biota, particularly in the context of restoration. When several sources of plant material are available to land managers, it may be important to account for interactions between plant variety and soil inoculum. Here we present results from an experiment examining interactions between plant variety and soil inoculum for beach restoration. At two lakeshore beaches in Chicago, IL, we planted two varieties of the native beach grass Ammophila breviligulata, a common plant used in beach restoration. We included a soil inoculum treatment for half of the plots, using soil from nearby mature plant communities. The “Cape” variety of Ammophila had double the survivorship and growth of the regional variety of Ammophila “Vans.” Soil inoculum significantly increased survivorship and growth of the regional variety in one site, but not of the “Cape” variety. Mycorrhizal spore abundance and diversity, as well as plant root colonization, did not differ between treatments, indicating that some other soil organisms may be providing benefits to plants in this study. Our work shows that performance of key species for beach restoration can vary up to 300% depending on complex interactions between soil biota and plant variety.

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