, Volume 355, Issue 1-2, pp 63-73
Date: 09 Dec 2011

Changes in soil hyphal abundance and viability can alter the patterns of hydraulic redistribution by plant roots

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Abstract

Background and aims

We conducted a mesocosm study to investigate the extent to which the process of hydraulic redistribution of soil water by plant roots is affected by mycorrhizosphere disturbance.

Methods

We used deuterium-labeled water to track the transfer of hydraulically lifted water (HLW) from well-hydrated donor oaks (Quercus agrifolia Nee.) to drought-stressed receiver seedlings growing together in mycorrhizal or fungicide-treated mesocosms. We hypothesized that the transfer of HLW from donor to receiver plants would be enhanced in undisturbed (non-fungicide-treated) mesocosms where an intact mycorrhizal hyphal network was present.

Results

Contrary to expectations, both upper soil and receiver seedlings contained significantly greater proportions of HLW in mesocosms where the abundance of mycorrhizal hyphal links between donor and receiver roots had been sharply reduced by fungicide application. Reduced soil hyphal density and viability likely hampered soil moisture retention properties in fungicide-treated mesocosms, thus leading to faster soil water depletion in upper compartments. The resulting steeper soil water potential gradient between taproot and upper compartments enhanced hydraulic redistribution in fungicide-treated mesocosms.

Conclusions

Belowground disturbances that reduce soil hyphal density and viability in the mycorrhizosphere can alter the patterns of hydraulic redistribution by roots through effects on soil hydraulic properties.

Responsible Editor: Angela Hodge.
José Ignacio Querejeta, Louise M. Egerton-Warburton and Iván Prieto contributed equally to this work.