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Plant choice between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal species results in increased plant P acquisition

by Soren E Weber, Jordi Bascompte, Ansgar Kahmen, Pascal Niklaus
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Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are plant root symbionts that provide phosphorus (P) to plants in exchange for photosynthetically fixed carbon (C). Previous research has shown that plants—given a choice among AMF species—may preferentially allocate C to AMF species that provide more P. However, these investigations rested on a limited set of plant and AMF species, and it therefore remains unclear how general this phenomenon is. Here, we combined 4 plant and 6 AMF species in 24 distinct plant-AMF species compositions in split-root microcosms, manipulating the species identity of AMF in either side of the root system. Using 14C and 32P/33P radioisotope tracers, we tracked the transfer of C and P between plants and AMF, respectively. We found that when plants had a choice of AMF species, AMF species which transferred more P acquired more C. Evidence for preferential C allocation to more beneficial AMF species within individual plant roots was equivocal. However, AMF species which transferred more P to plants did so at lower C-to-P ratios, highlighting the importance both of absolute and relative costs of P acquisition from AMF. When plants had a choice of AMF species, their shoots contained a larger total amount of P at higher concentrations. Our results thus highlight the benefits of plant C choice among AMF for plant P acquisition.