We tested the hypothesis that mycorrhizal infection benefits wild plants to a lesser extent than cultivated plants. This hypothesis stems from two observations: (1) mycorrhizal infection improves plant growth primarily by increasing nutrient uptake, and (2) wild plants often possess special adaptations to soil infertility which are less pronounced in modern cultivated plants. In the first experiment, wild (Avena fatua L.) and cultivated (A. sativa L.) oats were grown hydroponically at four different phosphorus levels. Wild oat was less responsive (in shoot dry weight) to increasing phosphorus availability than cultivated oat. In addition, the root: shoot ratio was much more plastic in wild oat (varying from 0.90 in the low phosphorus solution to 0.25 in the high phosphorus solution) than in cultivated oat (varying from 0.44 to 0.17). In the second experiment, mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal wild and cultivated oats were grown in a phosphorus-deficient soil. Mycorrhizal infection generally improved the vegetative growth of both wild and cultivated oats. However, infection significantly increased plant lifespan, number of panicles per plant, shoot phosphorus concentration, shoot phosphorus content, duration of flowering, and the mean weight of individual seeds in cultivated oat, while it had a significantly reduced effect, no effect, or a negative effect on these characters for wild oat. Poor positive responsiveness of wild oat in these characters was thus associated with what might be considered to be inherent adaptations to nutrient deficiency: high root: shoot ratio and inherently low growth rate. Infection also increased seed phosphorus content and reproductive allocation.
Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizaAvena sativa L. vs. Avena fatua L.Wild vs. cultivated plantsAdaptations to infertilityMycorrhizal dependency