A majority of terrestrial plants form a root symbiosis with the ubiquitous soil-dwelling arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, which can drastically alter belowground interactions and generate changes in plant community composition.
Individual fungi can simultaneously colonize multiple plants, and movements of nutrients and carbon (C) within this common mycorrhizal network (CMN) have been demonstrated. The ecological implications of this movement for both plants and fungi, however, remain uncertain and are intensely debated.
By combining field studies in a coastal plant community in Denmark and controlled greenhouse experiments, this project will provide information on
- the importance of CMN for distances of belowground C transport,
- the underlying mechanisms that drive C-allocations within the CMN and
- the relationship between fungal diversity and CMN size and function.
Fungal individuals will be identified using molecular tools, and C movement within the CMN will be traced using C isotopes. Combining these state-of-the-art techniques allow for novel in-situ measurements of community composition and function of AM fungi that are ecologically important.
Approximately 20% of the C fixed during photosynthesis is allocated to AM fungi, yet we know virtually nothing about the fate of this C. By measuring C flow within the mycorrhizal network, we will document the role of AM fungi for mediating both plant and soil microbial interactions.
This project combines the expertise of researchers in areas of ecology, physiology and microbial biology, and will improve our understanding of current ecosystem functions, as well as our predictive ability of ecosystem responses to changing environments.
Research in this area could have wide applications, ranging from a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of plant invasions to factors that are influencing ecosystem C sequestration.
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