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'Jack-of-all-trades' plants

posted Jan 20, 2016, 6:43 AM by Etienne Laliberté   [ updated Mar 30, 2016, 1:52 PM ]
Plant species show a remarkable diversity of belowground strategies to acquire nutrients: different types of mycorrhizal associations, symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and many more. While most plant species use only one strategy, a few plant species possess the ability to form different types of symbiotic associations with some fungi and bacteria.

Felipe Albornoz (PhD student) studied two plant species in south-western Australia that occur across a long-term soil chronosequence representing a very strong soil nutrient availability gradient. These two plant species can form arbuscular or ectomycorrhizal association, and one also fixes nitrogen in root nodules with the help of some bacteria. The results showed that plant investment into these different associations depends on soil nutrient availability, particularly which nutrient (nitrogen or phosphorus) limits plant growth. Arbuscular mycorrhizal colonisation was higher in younger, more P-rich soils but shifted toward ectomycorrhizal colonisation in older P-poor soils where most of the P is in organic forms. Investment in N-fixing nodules declined with soil age because P rather than N became the limiting nutrient.

This study was just published in Ecology and Evolution. See publications for more details.