U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Plant-Mycorrhizal Interactions Influence Coexistence Patterns in Plants
Published: January 03, 2017
Posted: March 16, 2017

The symbiosis between plants and mycorrhizal fungi can change nutrient availability, which can alter how plants interact and coexist.

The Science
The coexistence of plants in an ecosystem is regulated by resource availability and competition for those resources. Mycorrhizal fungi (MF), a root symbiont that helps plants obtain nutrients, can alter how plants compete for resources, which can alter patterns of plant coexistence. MF are found almost everywhere that plants grow, so leaving them out of climate models can cause inaccurate predictions of ecosystem patterns such as plant coexistence. Researchers recently developed a new mathematical model that includes MF for the first time.

The Impact
Because MF alter resource availability, it may seem obvious that they will alter plant coexistence. Until now, however, mathematical models did not include MF. Including MF in models will lead to better predictions, which can enable better understanding of patterns in nature and how they might be altered by climate change.

Mycorrhizal fungi (MF) can alter plant coexistence patterns by changing the host plant’s ability to compete for resources in the soil. How MF change plant coexistence patterns depends on how dependent the host plant and MF are on one another for survival, the rate at which plants and MF exchange nutrients, and how plant growth patterns respond to the cost-benefit ratio of their symbiotic relationship with MF. A new model, which explicitly includes MF, shows that there are tradeoffs to the symbiosis. At times, the carbon cost of MF is balanced by the increase in nutrient availability; however, it is also possible for the carbon cost to outweigh the nutrient benefits and for MF to become detrimental to the host plant’s growth. The balance of the symbiotic relationship can affect plant competition for resources, which can lead to changes in plant coexistence. This model will enable future empirical studies to form hypotheses in light of a better understanding of MF’s role in plant coexistence patterns.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover and Jared DeForest
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289); and Jared.DeForest@science.doe.gov (301-903-1678)

(PI Contact)
Aimee T. Classen      
University of Vermont

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program under award number DE-SC0010562.

Jiang, J., J. A. M. Moore, A. Priyadarshi, and A. T. Classen. 2017. “Plant-Mycorrhizal Interactions Mediate Plant Community Coexistence by Altering Resource Demand,” Ecology 98, 187-97. DOI: 10.1002/ecy.1630. (Reference link)

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)