Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi ameliorate temperature stress in thermophilic plants

Rebecca Bunn, Ylva Lekberg, Catherine Zabinski
Ecology 2009, 90 (5): 1378-88
Biotic interactions can affect the distribution of species across environmental gradients, and as air and soil temperatures increase, plant community response may depend on interactions with symbionts. We measured the effect of elevated soil temperatures on mycorrhizal function and on the response of both plant and fungal symbionts, using fungal inoculum isolated from either high-temperature thermal or nonthermal grassland soils. Our source for thermal soils was Yellowstone National Park, USA, where plants experience rooting zone temperatures of 45 degrees C or more. In the greenhouse, we grew three plant species (Dichanthelium lanuginosum, Agrostis scabra, and Mimulus guttatus) with three arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) treatments (no AMF, nonthermal AMF, thermal AMF) and two soil temperatures (ambient, elevated). Biomass of the facultative thermal plants Agrostis scabra and Mimulus guttatus decreased by 50% in elevated-temperature soils, and AMF had no effect on measured plant traits. In contrast, the biomass and total root length of the obligate thermal plant Dichanthelium lanuginosum were greater at elevated soil temperatures, but only when mycorrhizal. Both mycorrhizal colonization levels and length of extraradical hyphae (ERH) increased with soil temperature across all host species. The source of the AMF inoculum, on the other hand, did not affect colonization level, ERH length, host plant biomass, or flowering for all host species in either temperature treatment, suggesting that AMF from thermal soils are not specifically adapted to higher temperatures. In the field we collected soil cores to measure in situ depth distributions of D. lanuginosum roots and ERH, and to determine which AMF species were active in plants growing in thermal soils. Roots were limited to soils with an average temperature < or =30 degrees C, while ERH existed in the hottest soils we sampled, averaging 35 degrees C. Molecular analyses of roots indicated that thermal AMF communities were composed of both generalist and possibly unique fungal species. The increase in host plant allocation to AMF, apparent lack of temperature adaptation by AMF, and differential host response to AMF suggest that AMF could be significant drivers of plant community response to increased soil temperature associated with global change.

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