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Mycorrhizal fungi and roots are complementary in foraging within nutrient patches

Cheng, Lei, Chen, Weile, Adams, Thomas S., Wei, Xing, Li, Le, McCormack, Michael Luke, DeForest, Jared L., Koide, Roger T., Eissenstat, David M.
Ecology 2016 v.97 no.10 pp. 2815-2823
ectomycorrhizae, foraging, hyphae, microbial biomass, mycorrhizal fungi, nutrients, roots, terrestrial ecosystems, trees, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae
The roots of the majority of tree species are associated with either arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) or ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi. The absorptive roots of tree species also vary widely in their diameter. The linkages between root thickness, mycorrhiza type and nutrient foraging are poorly understood. We conducted a large root ingrowth experiment in the field to investigate how absorptive roots of varying thickness and their associated fungi (AM vs. EM) exploit different nutrient patches (inorganic and organic) in a common garden. In nutrient‐rich patches, thin‐root tree species more effectively proliferated absorptive roots than thick‐root tree species, whereas thick‐root tree species proliferated more mycorrhizal fungal biomass than thin‐root tree species. Moreover, nutrient patches enriched with organic materials resulted in greater root and mycorrhizal fungal proliferation compared to those enriched with inorganic nutrients. Irrespective of root morphology, AM tree species had higher root foraging precision than mycorrhizal hyphae foraging precision within organic patches, whereas EM tree species exhibited the opposite. Our findings that roots and mycorrhizal fungi are complementary in foraging within nutrient patches provide new insights into species coexistence and element cycling in terrestrial ecosystems.