Arbuscular mycorrhizas (AMs) are characterized by the formation of unique structures, arbuscules and vesicles by fungi of the phylum Glomeromycota (AM fungi). AM fungi (AMF) help plants to capture nutrients such as phosphorus, sulfur, nitrogen and micronutrients from the soil. It is believed that the development of the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis played a crucial role in the initial colonisation of land by plants and in the evolution of the vascular plants.
It has been said that it is quicker to list the plants that do not form mycorrhizae than those that do. This symbiosis is a highly evolved mutualistic relationship found between fungi and plants, the most prevalent plant symbiosis known, and AM is found in 80% of vascular plant families in existence today.
The tremendous advances in research on mycorrhizal physiology and ecology over the past 40 years have led to a greater understanding of the multiple roles of AMF in the ecosystem. This knowledge is applicable to human endeavors of ecosystem management, ecosystem restoration, and agriculture.
Evolution of mycorrhizal symbiosis 
Both paleobiological and molecular evidence indicate that AM is an ancient symbiosis that originated at least 460 million years ago. AM symbiosis is ubiquitous among land plants, which suggests that mycorrhizas were present in the early ancestors of extant land plants. This positive association with plants may have facilitated the development of land plants.
The Rhynie chert of the lower Devonian has yielded fossils of the earliest land plants in which AM fungi have been observed. The fossilized plants containing mycorrhizal fungi were preserved in silica.
The Early Devonian saw the development of terrestrial flora. Plants of the Rhynie chert from the Lower Devonian (400 m.yrs ago) were found to contain structures resembling vesicles and spores of present Glomus species. Colonized fossil roots have been observed in Aglaophyton major and Rhynia, which are ancient plants possessing characteristics of vascular plants and bryophytes with primitive protostelic rhizomes.
Intraradical mycelium was observed in root intracellular spaces, and arbuscules were observed in the layer thin wall cells similar to palisade parenchyma. The fossil arbuscules appear very similar to those of existing AMF. The cells containing arbuscules have thickened walls, which are also observed in extant colonized cells.
Mycorrhizas from the Miocene exhibit a vesicular morphology closely resembling that of present Glomerales. The need for further evolution may have been lost due to the readily available food source provided by the plant host. However, it can be argued that the efficacy of signaling process is likely to have evolved, which could not be easily detected in the fossil record. A finetuning of the signaling processes would improve coordination and nutrient exchange between symbionts while increasing the fitness of both the fungi and the plant symbionts.
The nature of the relationship between plants and the ancestors of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi is contentious. Two hypotheses are:
- Mycorrhizal symbiosis evolved from a parasitic interaction that developed into a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Mycorrhizal fungi developed from saprobic fungi that became endosymbiotic.
Both saprotrophs and biotrophs were found in the Rhynie Chert, but there is little evidence to support either hypothesis.
There is some fossil evidence that suggests that the parasitic fungi did not kill the host cells immediately upon invasion, although a response to the invasion was observed in the host cells. This response may have evolved into the chemical signaling processes required for symbiosis.
In both cases, the symbiotic plant-fungi interaction is thought to have evolved from a relationship in which the fungi was taking nutrients from the plant into a symbiotic relationship where the plant and fungi exchange nutrients.
Molecular evidence 
Increased interest in mycorrhizal symbiosis and the rapid development of sophisticated molecular techniques has led to the rapid development of genetic evidence. Wang et al. (2010) performed an intensive investigation of three widely occurring plant genes that encode for a signal transduction cascade vital for communication with order Glomales fungal partners (DMI1, DMI3, IPD3). Sequences of these three genes were obtained from all major clades of modern land plants (including liverworts, the most basal group), and the maximum probability phylogeny of the three genes was in complete agreement with the current land plant phylogenies. These findings imply that the mycorrhizal genes must have been present in the common ancestor of land plants, and that these genes must have been vertically inherited since the colonization of land by plants.
The development of AM fungi prior to root colonization, known as presymbiosis, consists of three stages: spore germination, hyphal growth, host recognition and appressorium formation.
Spores of the AM fungi are thick-walled multi-nucleate resting structures. The germination of the spore does not depend on the plant, as spores have been germinated under experimental conditions in the absence of plants both in vitro and in soil. However, the rate of germination can be increased by host root exudates. AM fungal spores germinate given suitable conditions of the soil matrix, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, pH, and phosphorus concentration.
The branching of AM fungal hyphae grown in phosphorus media of 1 mM is significantly reduced, but the length of the germ tube and total hyphal growth were not affected. A concentration of 10 mM phosphorus inhibited both hyphal growth and branching. This phosphorus concentration occurs in natural soil conditions and could thus contribute to reduced mycorrhizal colonization.
Root exudates from AMF host plants grown in a liquid medium with and without phosphorus have been shown to affect hyphal growth. Pre-germinated surface-sterilized spores of Gigaspora magarita were grown in host plant exudates. The fungi grow in the exudates from roots starved of phosphorus had increased hyphal growth and produced tertiary branches compared to those grown in exudates from plants given adequate phosphorus. When the growth-promoting root exudates were added in low concentration, the AM fungi produced scattered long branches. As the concentration of exudates was increased, the fungi produced more tightly clustered branches. At the highest-concentration arbuscules, the AMF structures of phosphorus exchange were formed.
This chemotaxic fungal response to the host plants exudates is thought to increase the efficacy of host root colonization in low-phosphorus soils. It is an adaptation for fungi to efficiently explore the soil in search of a suitable plant host.
Further evidence that AM fungi exhibit host-specific chemotaxis: Spores of Glomus mosseae were separated from the roots of a host plant, nonhost plants, and dead host plant by a membrane permeable only to hyphae. In the treatment with the host plant, the fungi crossed the membrane and always emerged within 800 µm of the root. Whereas in the treatments with nonhost plants and dead plants, the hyphae did not cross the membrane to reach the roots. This demonstrates that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi have chemotaxic abilities that enable hyphal growth toward the roots of a potential host plant.
Molecular techniques have been used to further understand the signaling pathways that occur between arbuscular mycorrhizae and the plant roots. In the presence of exudates from potential host plant roots, the AM undergoes physiological changes that allow it to colonize its host. AM fungal genes required for the respiration of spore carbon compounds are triggered and turned on by host plant root exudates. In experiments, there was an increase in the transcription rate of 10 genes half-hour after exposure and an even greater rate after 1 hour. A morphological growth response was observed 4 hours after exposure. The genes were isolated and found to be involved in mitochondrial activity and enzyme production. The fungal respiration rate was measured by O2 consumption rate and increased by 30% 3 hours after exposure to root exudates. This indicates that AMF spore mitochondrial activity is positively stimulated by host plant root exudates. This may be part of a fungal regulatory mechanism that conserves spore energy for efficient growth and the hyphal branching upon receiving signals from a potential host plant.
When arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal hyphae encounter the root of a host plant, an appressorium (an infection structure) is formed on the root epidermis. The appressorium is the structure from which the hyphae can penetrate into the host’s parenchyma cortex. The formation of appressoria does not require chemical signals from the plant. AM fungi could form appressoria on the cell walls of “ghost” cells in which the protoplast had been removed to eliminate signaling between the fungi and the plant host. However, the hyphae did not further penetrate the cells and grow in toward the root cortex, which indicates that signaling between symbionts is required for further growth once appressoria are formed.
Once inside the parenchyma, the fungus forms highly branched structures for nutrient exchange with the plant called "arbuscules". These are the distinguishing structures of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus. Arbuscules are the sites of exchange for phosphorus, carbon, water, and other nutrients. There are two forms: Paris type is characterized by the growth of hyphae from one cell to the next; and Arum type is characterized by the growth of hyphae in the space between plant cells. The choice between Paris type and Arum type is primarily determined by the host plant family, although some families or species are capable of either type.
The host plant exerts a control over the intercellular hyphal proliferation and arbuscule formation. There is a decondensation of the plant's chromatin, which indicates increased transcription of the plant's DNA in arbuscule-containing cells. Major modifications are required in the plant host cell to accommodate the arbuscules. The vacuoles shrink and other cellular organelles proliferate. The plant cell cytoskeleton is reorganized around the arbuscules.
There are two other types of hyphae that originate from the colonized host plant root. Once colonization has occurred, short-lived runner hyphae grow from the plant root into the soil. These are the hyphae that take up phosphorus and micronutrients, which are conferred to the plant. AM fungal hyphae have a high surface-to-volume ratio, making their absorptive ability greater than that of plant roots. AMF hyphae are also finer than roots and can enter into pores of the soil that are inaccessible to roots. The third type of AMF hyphae grows from the roots and colonizes other host plant roots. The three types of hyphae are morphologically distinct.
Nutrient uptake and exchange 
AM fungi are obligate symbionts. They have limited saprobic ability and are dependent on the plant for their carbon nutrition. AM fungi take up the products of the plant host’s photosynthesis as hexoses.
The transfer of carbon from the plant to the fungi may occur through the arbuscules or intraradical hyphae. Secondary synthesis from the hexoses by AM occurs in the intraradical mycelium. Inside the mycelium, hexose is converted to trehalose and glycogen. Trehalose and glycogen are carbon storage forms that can be rapidly synthesized and degraded and may buffer the intracellular sugar concentrations. The intraradical hexose enters the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway, which produces pentose for nucleic acids.
Lipid biosynthesis also occurs in the intraradical mycelium. Lipids are then stored or exported to extraradical hyphae where they may be stored or metabolized. The breakdown of lipids into hexoses, known as gluconeogenesis, occurs in the extraradical mycelium. Approximately 25% of the carbon translocated from the plant to the fungi is stored in the extraradical hyphae. Up to 20% of the host plant's photosynthate carbon may be transferred to the AM fungi. This represents a considerable carbon investment in mycorrhizal network by the host plant and contribution to the below-ground organic carbon pool.
An increase in the carbon supplied by the plant to the AM fungi increases the uptake of phosphorus and the transfer of phosphorus from fungi to plant  Phosphorus uptake and transfer is also lowered when the photosynthate supplied to the fungi is decreased. Species of AMF differ in their abilities to supply the plant with phosphorus. In some cases, arbuscular mycorrhizae are poor symbionts, providing little phosphorus while taking relatively high amounts of carbon.
The benefit of mycorrhizas to plants is mainly attributed to increased uptake of nutrients, especially phosphorus. This increase in uptake may be due to increase surface area of soil contact, increased movement of nutrients into mycorrhizae, a modification of the root environment, and increased storage. Mycorrhizas can be much more efficient than plant roots at taking up phosphorus. Phosphorus travels to the root or via diffusion and hyphae reduce the distance required for diffusion, thus increasing uptake. The rate of inflow of phosphorus into mycorrhizae can be up to six times that of the root hairs. In some cases, the role of phosphorus uptake can be completely taken over by the mycorrhizal network, and all of the plant’s phosphorus may be of hyphal origin. Less is known about the role of nitrogen nutrition in the arbuscular mycorrhizal system and its impact on the symbiosis and community. While significant advances have been made in elucidating the mechanisms of this complex interaction, much investigation remains to be done.
The available phosphorus concentration in the root zone can be increased by mycorrhizal activity. Mycorrhizae lower the rhizosphere pH due to selective uptake of NH4+ (ammonium-ions) and release of H+ ions. Decreased soil pH increases the solubility of phosphorus precipitates. The hyphal uptake of NH4+ also increases the flow of nitrogen to the plant as NH4+ is adsorbed to the soil's inner surfaces and must be taken up by diffusion.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are most frequent in plants growing on mineral soils, and are of extreme importance for plants growing in nutrient-deficient substrates such as in volcanic and sand dune environments. The populations of AM fungi is greatest in plant communities with high diversity such as tropical rainforests and temperate grasslands where they have many potential host plants and can take advantage of their ability to colonize a broad host range. There is a lower incidence of mycorrhizal colonization in very arid or nutrient-rich soils. Mycorrhizas have been observed in aquatic habitats; however, waterlogged soils have been shown to decrease colonization in some species. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are found in 80% of plant species  and have been surveyed on all continents except Antarctica,. The biogeography of Glomeromycota is influenced by dispersal limitation, environmental factors such as climate, soil series and soil pH  and plant community,. While previous evidence suggests that AM fungi are not specialists on their host species, current studies have indicated that at least some fungi taxa are host specialists.
Response to plant communities 
The specificity, host range, and degree of colonization of mycorrhizal fungi are difficult to analyze in the field due to the complexity of interactions between the fungi within a root and within the system. There is no clear evidence to suggest that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi exhibit specificity for colonization of potential AM host plant species as do fungal pathogens for their host plants. This may be due to the opposite selective pressure involved.
In parasitic relations, the host plant benefits from mutations that prevent colonization, whereas, in a symbiotic relationship, the plant benefits from mutation that allow for colonization by AMF. However, plant species differ in the extent and dependence on colonization by certain AM fungi, and some plants may be facultative mycotrophs, while others may be obligate mycotrophs. Recently, mycorrhizal status has been linked to plant distributions, with obligate mycorrhizal plants occupying warmer, drier habitats while facultative mycorrhizal plants occupy larger ranges of habitats.
The ability of the same AM fungi to colonize many species of plants has ecological implications. Plants of different species can be linked underground to a common mycelial network. One plant may provide the photosynthate carbon for the establishment of the mycelial network that another plant of a different species can utilize for mineral uptake. This implies that arbuscular mycorrhizae are able to balance below-ground intra–and interspecific plant interactions.
Since Glomeromycota fungi live inside plant roots, they can be influenced substantially by their plant host and in return affect plant communities as well. Plants can allocate up to 30% of their photosynthate carbon to AM fungi  and in return AM fungi can acquire up to 80% of plant phosphorus and nitrogen. The diversity of AM fungal communities has been positively linked to plant diversity, plant productivity and herbivory. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi can be influenced by small scale interactions with the local plant community. For example, the plant neighborhood around a focal plant can alter AM fungal communities as can the order of plant establishment within sites.
AM fungi and plant invasion 
During invasions of plant species, the AM fungal community and biomass can be drastically altered. In the majority of cases AM fungal biomass and diversity decrease with invasions,,. However, some mycotrophic plant species may actually increase AM fungal diversity during invasion.
The mycorrhizal status of invasive plant species often varies between regions. For example, in the United Kingdom and central Europe recently invasive plants are more frequently obligately mycorrhizal than expected, while invasive plants in California were found to be less frequently mycorrhizal than expected.
Interactions between AM fungi and other plant symbionts 
All symbionts within a plant host interact, often in unpredictable ways. A recent meta-analysis indicated that plants colonized by both AM fungi and vertically transmitted endophytes often are larger than plants independently colonized by these symbionts. However, this relationship is context-dependent as AM fungi can interact synergistically with fungal endophytes inhabiting the leaves of their host plant, or antagonistically,). Similar ranges of interactions can occur between AM fungi and ectomycorrhizal fungi and dark septate endophytes.
Response to environmental gradients 
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi vary across many environmental gradients. The tolerance of AM fungi to freezing and drying is known to shift between AM fungal taxa. AM fungi become less prevalent and diverse at higher soil nutrient and moisture concentrations, presumably because both plants allocate less carbon to AM fungi and AM fungi reallocate their resources to intradical hyphae in these environmental conditions. Over the long term, these environmental conditions can even create local adaptation between plant hosts, AM fungi and the local soil nutrient concentrations. Along elevational gradients AM composition often becomes less diverse on mountain tops than at lower elevations, but this effect is driven by the composition of plant species.
Rhizosphere ecology 
The rhizosphere is the soil zone in the immediate vicinity of a root system.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis affects the community and diversity of other organisms in the soil. This can be directly seen by the release of exudates, or indirectly by a change in the plant species and plant exudates type and amount.
Mycorrhizae diversity has been shown to increase plant species diversity as the potential number of associations increases. Dominant arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi can prevent the invasion of non-mycorrhizal plants on land where they have established symbiosis and promote their mycorrhizal host.
Recent research has shown that AM fungi release an unidentified diffusional factor, known as the myc factor, which activates the nodulation factor's inducible gene MtEnod11. This is the same gene involved in establishing symbiosis with the nitrogen fixing, rhizobial bacteria (Kosuta et al. 2003). When rhizobium bacteria are present in the soil, mycorrhizal colonization is increased due to an increase in the concentration of chemical signals involved in the establishment of symbiosis (Xie et al. 2003). Molecules similar to Nod factors were isolated from AM fungi and were shown to induce MtEnod11, lateral root formation and enhance mycorrhization. Effective mycorrhizal colonization can also increase the nodulations and symbiotic nitrogen fixation in mycorrhizal legumes.
The extent of arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization and species affects the bacterial population in the rhizosphere. Bacterial species differ in their abilities to compete for carbon compound root exudates. A change in the amount or composition of root exudates and fungal exudates due to the existing AM mycorrhizal colonization determines the diversity and abundance of the bacterial community in the rhizosphere.
The influence of AM fungi on plant root and shoot growth may also have indirect effect on the rhizosphere bacteria. AMF contributes a substantial amount of carbon to the rhizosphere through the growth and degeneration of the hyphal network. There is also evidence to suggest that AM fungi may play an important role on mediating the plant species' specific effect on the bacterial composition of the rhizosphere.
Glomeromycota and global change 
Global change is affecting AM fungal communities and interactions between AM fungi and their plant hosts. While it is generally accepted that interactions between organisms will affect their response to global change, we still lack the ability to predict the outcome of these interactions in future climates. In recent meta-analyses, AM fungi were found to increase plant biomass under drought conditions and decrease plant biomass under simulated nitrogen deposition studies,. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi themselves have been shown to increase their biomass in response to elevated atmospheric CO2 
The use of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in ecological restoration projects (phytoremediation) has been shown to enable host plant establishment on degraded soil and improve soil quality and health.
Disturbance of native plant communities in desertification-threatened areas is often followed by degradation of physical and biological soil properties, soil structure, nutrient availability, and organic matter.
When restoring disturbed land, it is essential to replace not only the above ground vegetation but also the biological and physical soil properties.
A relatively new approach to restoring land and protecting against desertification is to inoculate the soil with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi with the reintroduction of vegetation. A long-term study demonstrated that a significantly greater long-term improvement in soils' quality parameters was attained when the soil was inoculated with a mixture of indigenous arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi species compared to the noninoculated soil and soil inoculated with a single exotic species of AM fungi (Figure 2). The benefits observed were an increased plant growth and soil nitrogen content, higher soil organic matter content, and soil aggregation. The improvements were attributed to the higher legume nodulation in the presence of AMF, better water infiltration, and soil aeration due to soil aggregation.
Inoculation with native AM fungi increased plant uptake of phosphorus, improving plant growth and health. The results support the use of AM fungi as a biological tool in the restoration of biotopes to self-sustaining ecosystems.
Many modern agronomic practices are disruptive to mycorrhizal symbiosis. There is great potential for low-input agriculture to manage the system in a way that promotes mycorrhizal symbiosis.
Conventional agriculture practices, such as tillage, heavy fertilizers and fungicides, poor crop rotations, and selection for plants that survive these conditions, hinder the ability of plants to form symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.
Most agricultural crops can perform better and are more productive when well-colonized by AM fungi. AM symbiosis increases the phosphorus and micronutrient uptake and growth of their plant host (George et al. 1992).
Management of AM fungi is especially important for organic and low-input agriculture systems where soil phosphorus is, in general, low, although all agroecosystems can benefit by promoting arbuscular mycorrhizae establishment.
Some crops that are poor at seeking out nutrients in the soil are very dependent on AM fungi for phosphorus uptake. For example flax, which has poor chemotaxic ability, is highly dependent on AM-mediated phosphorus uptake at low and intermediate soil phosphorus concentrations (Thingstrup et al. 1998).
Proper management of AMF in the agroecosystems can improve the quality of the soil and the productivity of the land. Agricultural practices such as reduced tillage, low phosphorus fertilizer usage, and perennialized cropping systems promote functional mycorrhizal symbiosis.
Tillage reduces the inoculation potential of the soil and the efficacy of mycorrhizaes by disrupting the extraradical hyphal network (Miller et al. 1995, McGonigle & Miller 1999, Mozafar et al. 2000).
By breaking apart the soil macro structure, the hyphal network is rendered non-infective (Miller et al. 1995, McGonigle & Miller 1999). The disruption of the hyphal network decreases the absorptive abilities of the mycorrhizae because the surface area spanned by the hyphae is greatly reduced. This, in turn, lowers the phosphorus input to the plants that are connected to the hyphal network (Figure 3, McGonigle & Miller 1999).
In reduced-tillage system, heavy phosphorus fertilizer input may not be required as compared to heavy-tillage systems. This is due to the increase in mycorrhizal network, which allows mycorrhizae to provide the plant with sufficient phosphorus (Miller et al. 1995).
Phosphorus fertilizer 
The benefits of AMF are greatest in systems where inputs are low. Heavy usage of phosphorus fertilizer can inhibit mycorrhizal colonization and growth.
As the soil's phosphorus levels available to the plants increases, the amount of phosphorus also increases in the plant's tissues, and carbon drain on the plant by the AM fungi symbiosis become non-beneficial to the plant (Grant 2005).
A decrease in mycorrhizal colonization due to high soil-phosphorus levels can lead to plant deficiencies in other micronutrients that have mycorrhizal-mediated uptake such as copper (Timmer & Leyden 1980).
Perennialized cropping systems 
Cover crops are grown in the fall, winter, and spring, covering the soil during periods when it would commonly be left without a cover of growing plants.
Mycorrhizal cover crops can be used to improve the mycorrhizal inoculum potential and hyphal network (Kabir and Koide 2000, Boswell et al.1998, Sorensen et al. 2005).
Since AM fungi are biotrophic, they are dependent on plants for the growth of their hyphal networks. Growing a cover crop extends the time for AM growth into the autumn, winter, and spring. Promotion of hyphal growth creates a more extensive hyphal network. The mycorrhizal colonization increase found in cover crops systems may be largely attributed to an increase in the extraradical hyphal network that can colonize the roots of the new crop (Boswell et al. 1998). The extraradical mycelia are able to survive the winter, providing rapid spring colonization and early season symbiosis (McGonigle and Miller 1999). This early symbiosis allows plants to tap into the well-established hyphal network and be supplied with adequate phosphorus nutrition during early growth, which greatly improves the crop yield.
Soil quality 
Restoration of native AM fungi increases the success of ecological restoration project and the rapidity of soil recovery. AM fungi enhance soil aggregate stability is due to the production of extraradical hyphae and a soil protein known as glomalin.
Glomalin-related soil proteins (GRSP) have been identified using a monoclonal antibody (Mab32B11) raised against crushed AMF spores. It is defined by its extraction conditions and reaction with the antibody Mab32B11.
There is other circumstantial evidence to show that glomalin is of AM fungal origin. When AM fungi are eliminated from soil through incubation of soil without host plants, the concentration of GRSP declines. A similar decline in GRSP has also been observed in incubated soils from forested, afforested, and agricultural land and grasslands treated with fungicide.
Glomalin is hypothesized to improve soil aggregate water stability and decrease soil erosion. A strong correlation has been found between GRSP and soil aggregate water stability in a wide variety of soils where organic material is the main binding agent, although the mechanism is not known. The protein glomalin has not yet been isolated and described, and the link between glomalin, GRSP, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi is not yet clear.
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