A phosphorus threshold for mycoheterotrophic plants in tropical forests

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The majority of terrestrial plants associate with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, which typically facilitate the uptake of limiting mineral nutrients by plants in exchange for plant carbon. However, hundreds of non-photosynthetic plant species—mycoheterotrophs—depend entirely on AM fungi for carbon as well as mineral nutrition. Mycoheterotrophs can provide insight into the operation and regulation of AM fungal relationships, but little is known about the factors, fungal or otherwise, that affect mycoheterotroph abundance and distribution. In a lowland tropical forest in Panama, we conducted the first systematic investigation into the influence of abiotic factors on the abundance and distribution of mycoheterotrophs, to ask whether the availability of nitrogen and phosphorus altered the occurrence of mycoheterotrophs and their AM fungal partners. Across a natural fertility gradient spanning the isthmus of Panama, and also in a long-term nutrientaddition experiment, mycoheterotrophs were entirely absent when soil exchangeable phosphate concentrations exceeded 2 mg P kg21. Experimental phosphorus addition reduced the abundance of AM fungi, and also reduced the abundance of the specific AM fungal taxa required by the mycoheterotrophs, suggesting that the phosphorus sensitivity of mycoheterotrophs is underpinned by the phosphorus sensitivity of their AM fungal hosts. The soil phosphorus concentration of 2 mg P kg21 also corresponds to a marked shift in tree community composition and soil phosphatase activity across the fertility gradient, suggesting that our findings have broad ecological significance.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of Cambridge
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • Northern Arizona University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Botany

Keywords

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, Epiparisitism, Mycoheterotroph, Phosphorus, Tropical forest
Original languageEnglish
Article number20162093
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume284
Issue number1848
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Feb 8
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes