Johnson, N. C., D. L. Rowland, L. Corkidi, L. M. Egerton-Warburton, and E. B. Allen. 2003. Nitrogen enrichment alters mycorrhizal allocation at five mesic to semiarid grasslands. Ecology 84:1895-1908.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are integral components of grasslands because most plants are associated with interconnected networks of AM hyphae. Mycorrhizae generally facilitate plant uptake of nutrients from the soil. However, mycorrhizal associations are known to vary in their mutualistic function, and there is currently no metric that links AM functioning with fungal colonization of roots. Mycorrhizal structures differ in their physiological and ecological functioning, so changes in AM allocation to intraradical (inside roots) and extraradical (in soil) structures may signal shifts in mycorrhizal function. We hypothesize that the functional equilibrium model applies to AM fungi and that fertilization should reduce allocation to arbuscules, coils, and extraradical hyphae, the fungal structures that are directly involved in nutrient acquisition and transfer to plants. This study compared AM responses to experimental N enrichment at five grasslands distributed across North America. Samples were collected from replicated N-enriched (and some P-enriched) and control plots throughout the growing season for three years. Intraradical AM structures were measured in over 1400 root samples, extraradical hyphal density was measured in over 590 soil samples, and spore biovolume was analyzed in over 400 soil samples. There were significant site X N interactions for spore biovolume, extraradical hyphae, intraradical hyphae, and vesicles. Nitrogen enrichment strongly decreased AM structures at Cedar Creek, the site with the lowest soil N:P, and it increased AM structures at Konza Prairie, the site with the highest soil N:P. As predicted by the functional equilibrium model, in soils with sufficient P, relative allocation to arbuscules, coils, and extraradical hyphae was generally reduced by N enrichment. Allocation to spores and hyphae was most sensitive to fertilization. At the mesic sites, this response was associated with a shift in the relative abundance of Gigasporaceae within AM fungal communities. This study demonstrates that N enrichment impacts mycorrhizal allocation across a wide range of grassland ecosystems. Such changes are important because they suggest an alteration in mycorrhizal functioning that, in turn, may impact plant community composition and ecosystem function.
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