Ecology of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

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Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are found in 80% of plant species [1] and have been surveyed on all continents except Antarctica.[2][3] The biogeography of Glomeromycota is influenced by dispersal limitation,[4] environmental factors such as climate,[2] soil series and soil pH [3] and plant community.[2][5] While previous evidence suggests that AM fungi are not specialists on their host species,[6] current studies have indicated that at least some fungi taxa are host specialists.[7]

Response to plant communities[edit]

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 [8] and in return AM fungi can acquire up to 80% of plant phosphorus and nitrogen.[1] The diversity of AM fungal communities has been positively linked to plant diversity,[9] plant productivity[10] and herbivory.[11] 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[12] as can the order of plant establishment within sites.[13]

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,.[14][15][16] However, some mycotrophic plant species may actually increase AM fungal diversity during invasion.[17]

Response to environmental gradients[edit]

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.[18] AM fungi become less prevalent and diverse at higher soil nutrient and moisture concentrations,[19] presumably because both plants allocate less carbon to AM fungi and AM fungi reallocate their resources to intradical hyphae in these environmental conditions.[20] Over the long term, these environmental conditions can even create local adaptation between plant hosts, AM fungi and the local soil nutrient concentrations.[21] 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.[22]

Interactions between AM fungi and other plant symbionts[edit]

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.[23] However, this relationship is context-dependent as AM fungi can interact synergistically with fungal endophytes inhabiting the leaves of their host plant,[24][25] or antagonistically,[26][27][28]). Similar ranges of interactions can occur between AM fungi and ectomycorrhizal fungi and dark septate endophytes.[29]

Glomeromycota and global change[edit]

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.[30] In recent meta-analyses, AM fungi were found to increase plant biomass under drought conditions and decrease plant biomass under simulated nitrogen deposition studies.[31][32] Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi themselves have been shown to increase their biomass in response to elevated atmospheric CO2.[33]


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