Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mycorrhizal Networks: Socialists, capitalists or superorganisms?

ResearchBlogging.orgMycorrhizal networks – fungal mycelium that colonize and connect roots of one or more plant species – are a very intriguing type of fungal-plant association. There is evidence of substantial facilitation between plant individuals via these fungal networks. This can have drastic implications for our understanding of nature, given that the common perception is that other mechanisms, like competition, herbivory or dispersal, are the main drivers of plant community associations. This may be far from reality if the existence of “socialist” networks is widespread (e.g. the ability to connect and profit from a network may be more important than competitive abilities). In the last issue of the Journal of Ecology ( that has a very interesting special feature on facilitation in plant communities), Marcel Van der Heijden and Tom Horton conducted a review of the topic. They found a general positive effect of mycorrhizal networks on seedlings and large plants (i.e. plants tend to grow better if they are associated with a network). However, the reviewers also found some networks can have a neutral or even a negative effect on plants. The plant responses were highly variable depending on other variables including fungal species, nutrients availability, and plant identity. The positive effect of some fungal networks on seedlings growing nearby adult trees of its same species is somehow opposite to the predictions of the Janzen-Connell hypothesis. We need further studies to understand the overall importance of mycorrhizal networks in relation to other better understood mechanisms.

van der Heijden, M., & Horton, T. (2009). Socialism in soil? The importance of mycorrhizal fungal networks for facilitation in natural ecosystems Journal of Ecology, 97 (6), 1139-1150 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01570.x

1 comment:

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