Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


MARKETS Report Summary

Project ID: 335542
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Mid-Term Report Summary - MARKETS (The evolution of plant-fungal markets)

Cheating can provide a useful survival strategy: one party exploits the cooperation of others, reaping benefits without paying costs. A major goal is to develop tools to predict when normally cooperative partners are favored to cheat, and defect from cooperative behavior.

Our focus is on the mutualism between plants and their fungal partners in which sugars from roots are exchanged for nutrients from fungi. How is cooperation maintained in plant-fungal networks? Selfish individuals can potentially exploit the collaboration, reaping nutrient benefits while paying no costs. So, why cooperate at all?

While past work has shown that plants and fungi can successfully negotiate conditions of trade, we do not understand how partner performance is evaluated, nor how trade strategies respond to changes in resource levels.

We are addressing this problem by investigating several environmental and host aspects critical to plant-fungal market regulation. My main achievements to date have been to show how: (1) higher carbon supply (i.e. elevated CO2-conditions) enables plants to more efficiently regulate community composition (2) fungal partners can successfully discriminate between host plants that share a common network and preferentially allocate nutrients to high-quality (nonshaded) hosts (3) host quality (i.e. manipulated by shading) affects the competitiveness of high- and low-quality fungal partners on the host root systems (3) the size of fungal networks differs depending on the social environment of the host, with the highest fungal abundance associated with plant hosts grown in monocultures (4) the order of arrival of the fungi colonizing a host can influence their net abundance such that the species arriving first can suppress the invading species.

We are now refining a method that allows us to visually track nutrient trade in space and time so that we can understand how trade strategies are regulated by resource availability. The ultimate goal is to predict how plant and fungal partners allocate resources based on their current conditions.

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