We present and discuss evidence, mostly from our own research, on some possible roles of mycorrhizae in interactions between plants. Experiments investigating whether seedlings become more rapidly infected with mycorrhiza if they are near large, already infected plants have shown that contact between the seedling's roots and established mycelium sometimes speeds up infection but on other occasions it does not. The reason for the discrepancies is not clear. Mycorrhiza can substantially alter the balance between competing plant species in a way that would not be predicted from their response when growing separately. An experiment involving large and small plants of the same species growing together showed little effect of mycorrhiza on the balance between plants of different sizes. The rate of transfer of 32P between plants of Lolium perenne or Plantago lanceolata was so slow, even when they were mycorrhizal, that phosphorus transfer between living plants seems unlikely to be of major ecological importance. However, nitrogen was found to be transferred much more freely than phosphorus between P. lanceolata plants. Situations are discussed in which there could be a source-sink relationship between plants causing net flow of carbon or mineral nutrients from one to the other. If nutrients pass from dying roots to living plants via mycorrhizal links, this could result in preferential nutrient cycling between species that share the same type of mycorrhiza. Some evidence is presented that this does happen.
Competition Grassland Nutrient transfer Nutrient cycling Seedling establishment