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Ecology. 2008 Apr;89(4):1032-42.

The mutualism-parasitism continuum in ectomycorrhizas: a quantitative assessment using meta-analysis.

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  • 1Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, 3529-6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Context dependency is deemed to position the outcomes of species interactions along a continuum of mutualism to parasitism. Thus, it is imperative to understand which factors determine where a particular interspecific interaction falls along the continuum. Over the past 20 years research on the ectomycorrhizal symbiosis has resulted in sufficient independent studies to now generalize about the factors and mechanisms that affect host response to ectomycorrhizas. Using meta-analysis we quantitatively evaluated the role of biotic (partner identity and colonization levels of ectomycorrhizal fungi) and abiotic (phosphorus levels) factors in determining host biomass, height, and shoot:root responses to ectomycorrhizal associations. On average, seedlings across multiple host genera increased in total biomass when inoculated with ectomycorrhizal fungi regardless of the identity of the fungal associate; host genera differed in the magnitude of response for both total biomass and shoot:root ratio. Association with different fungal genera modified only host allocation of biomass to shoots and roots. Neither level of colonization on inoculated seedlings nor the level of contamination on control seedlings relative to colonization levels by target fungi on inoculated seedlings was important in explaining variation in effect sizes for any growth response. None of our proposed factors (identity of partners, colonization level, magnitude of contamination, or duration of association) explained variation in effect sizes for shoot height, although in general seedlings were taller when inoculated with ectomycorrhizal fungi. Phosphorus additions did not influence effect sizes. Although the general trend across studies was for a positive response of hosts to ectomycorrhizal inoculation, publication bias and methodological issues effectively reduce and distort the spectrum on which we evaluate host responses to ectomycorrhizal inoculation. Our results indicate that the variation in ectomycorrhizal fungi perceived by the host may be of a discrete (presence/absence of ectomycorrhizal fungi) rather than continuous nature (variation in identity or abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi).

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