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Ecology. 2013 Jan;94(1):62-71.

Resource availability and imbalance affect plant-mycorrhizal interactions: a field test of three hypotheses.

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Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, Plant Biology Laboratories, 612 Wilson Road, Room 368, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA.


Ecological stoichiometry can explain major trends in how interactions among species change across fertility gradients, but important questions remain. For example, stoichiometry predicts that fertilization should cause plants to reduce carbon allocation to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and, consequently, reduce fungal abundance, but responses in the field are highly variable. In a field experiment, we tested three hypotheses that could drive this variation: (1) fungi are nitrogen limited in very nitrogen-poor soils, so fertilization increases their abundance; (2) the N:P ratio of fertilization affects plant carbon allocation to fungi; (3) plant species differences affect fungal response. Our results support all three hypotheses: stoichiometry and species idiosyncrasies jointly determined fungal response to fertilization. We provide field evidence in support of the hypothesis that nitrogen can limit fungal abundance in temperate grasslands. We also show that fungal abundance in soil (hyphal length) differed beneath two dominant plant species: big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and smooth brome (Bromus inermis). These grass species also differed in the degree to which they reduced root colonization with fertilization, but these differences in allocation did not lead to differential responses to fertilization in terms of fungal abundance in the soil. This study shows that, while ecological stoichiometry is a useful framework for understanding the effects of eutrophication on this important and widespread species interaction, including these subtleties can increase the predictive power of the theory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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