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PI-Submitted Research Highlights for
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program

Plant-Mycorrhizal Interactions Influence Coexistence Patterns in Plants

Aimee T. Classen
University of Vermont


13 February, 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, a root symbiont that helps plants obtain nutrients, can alter how plants compete for resources, which can alter patterns of plant coexistence.

The Impact
It may seem obvious that mycorrhizal fungi (MF) will alter plant coexistence because they alter resource availability; however, our mathematical model is the first to include MF. MF are found almost everywhere plants grow, so leaving them out of the equation can cause inaccurate predictions of ecosystem patterns such as plant coexistence. Including MF in models will lead to better predictions, which can allow is to better understand 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 to benefit ratio of their symbiotic relationship with MF. Our 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 MF become detrimental to the growth of the host plant. The balance of the symbiotic relationship can affect plant competition for resources, which can lead to changes in plant coexistence. Our model will allow future empirical studies to form hypotheses in light of a better understanding of the role of MF 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 Sciences Program under Award Number DE-SC0010562.

Jiang J, Moore JAM, Priyadarshi A, Classen AT (2017) Plant-mycorrhizal interactions mediate plant community coexistence by altering resource demand. Ecology 98:187-197. 

J. Jiang et al., “Plant-mycorrhizal interactions mediate plant community coezistence by altering resource demand.” Ecology 98, 187-197 (2017)

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Of ce of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Ecosystem Sciences Program under Award Number DE-SC0010562, National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31470709), National Special Fund for Forestry Scientific Research in the Public Interest (Grant No. 201504406), the Jiangsu Specially-Appointed Professors Program, and the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions.  

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