Paper of the Month February 2015

Global patterns of plant root colonization intensity by mycorrhizal fungi explained by climate and soil chemistry



Most vascular plants on Earth form mycorrhizae, a symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi. Despite the broad recognition of the importance of mycorrhizae for global carbon and nutrient cycling, we do not know how soil and climate variables relate to the intensity of colonization of plant roots by mycorrhizal fungi. Here we quantify the global patterns of these relationships.




Data on plant root colonization intensities by the two dominant types of mycorrhizal fungi world-wide, arbuscular (4887 plant species in 233 sites) and ectomycorrhizal fungi (125 plant species in 92 sites), were compiled from published studies. Data for climatic and soil factors were extracted from global datasets. For a given mycorrhizal type, we calculated at each site the mean root colonization intensity by mycorrhizal fungi across all potentially mycorrhizal plant species found at the site, and subjected these data to generalized additive model regression analysis with environmental factors as predictor variables.


We show for the first time that at the global scale the intensity of plant root colonization by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi strongly relates to warm-season temperature, frost periods and soil carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, and is highest at sites featuring continental climates with mild summers and a high availability of soil nitrogen. In contrast, the intensity of ectomycorrhizal infection in plant roots is related to soil acidity, soil carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and seasonality of precipitation, and is highest at sites with acidic soils and relatively constant precipitation levels.

Main conclusions

We provide the first quantitative global maps of intensity of mycorrhizal colonization based on environmental drivers, and suggest that environmental changes will affect distinct types of mycorrhizae differently. Future analyses of the potential effects of environmental change on global carbon and nutrient cycling via mycorrhizal pathways will need to take into account the relationships discovered in this study.

Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia, Jacob C. Douma, Asem A. Akhmetzhanova, Peter M. van Bodegom, William K. Cornwell, Esther J. Moens, Kathleen K. Treseder, Mark Tibbett, Ying-Ping Wang and Johannes H. C. Cornelissen (2015) Global Ecology and Biogeography, online first 8 January 2015

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