, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 75-91
Date: 11 Jan 2007

Plant responsiveness to mycorrhizas differs from dependence upon mycorrhizas

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Abstract

Soil phosphorus response curves of plants with and without mycorrhizas reflect two different, but complementary, phenomena. The first, plant responsiveness to mycorrhizas, is represented by the difference in growth between plants with and without mycorrhizas at any designated level of phosphorus availability. This is also a measure of mycorrhizal fungus effectiveness. The second, the lowest level of phosphorus availability at which plants can grow without mycorrhizas, is here termed dependence upon mycorrhizas. The latter definition differs from conventional usage which fails to distinguish dependence from responsiveness. Sigmoid curves generated by the three-parameter, logistic equation generally can model the responses of plants to mycorrhizas and phosphorus addition and can be used to assess responsiveness, effectiveness, and dependence. Such curves reveal that plant responsiveness or fungus effectiveness determined at a single level of phosphorus availability may be misleading when used to compare different host species’ intrinsic capacities to respond to different mycorrhizal fungus species. Instead, the same relative position should be evaluated among phosphorus response curves for different species combinations. Dependence of a plant species known to benefit from mycorrhizas can be assessed with reference to only the phosphorus response curve of plants without mycorrhizas. Dependence is a constitutive property of plant species that can be used to classify them as facultatively or obligately mycotrophic. Dependence is a plant attribute upon which natural selection can act, but responsiveness and effectiveness cannot be selected directly because they are emergent properties of the interaction between plant and fungus species.