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Local adaptation to mycorrhizal fungi in geographically close Lobelia siphilitica populations

  • Philip RekretEmail author
  • Hafiz Maherali
Population ecology – original research


Mutualism between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi is common, and plant populations are expected to have adapted to the AM fungal communities occupying their roots. Tests of this hypothesis have frequently been done with plant populations that are tens to hundreds of kilometers apart. However, because AM fungal community composition differs at scales < 1 km, local adaptation of plant populations to AM fungi may occur at small spatial scales, but this prediction has not been tested. Furthermore, prior experiments do not often experimentally identify whether adaptation is related to specific mycorrhizal functions. To test for plant adaptation to AM fungal communities at small spatial scales, and whether adaptation is associated with the nutritional benefits that AM fungi provide to plants, we grew Lobelia siphilitica plants from two geographically close populations (1.4 km apart) in a greenhouse reciprocal transplant experiment with soil biota that either included (whole soil) or excluded AM fungi (microbial wash) at both low and high soil phosphorus availability. Though both plant populations responded positively to the presence of AM fungi in the whole soil biota treatment relative to the microbial wash treatment, the average growth response of plant populations to mycorrhizal fungi was highest when local populations were grown with local AM fungi. In addition, local adaptation was only observed in the presence of AM fungi at low phosphorus levels. Thus, local adaptation of plant populations to AM fungi is present at spatial scales that are much smaller than previously demonstrated and occurred primarily to enhance phosphorus acquisition.


Adaptation Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi Mutualism Phosphorus Soil biota 



We thank E. Bothwell and C.M. Caruso for assistance at various stages of the project, and the two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the manuscript.

Author contribution statement

PR and HM developed the hypotheses and designed the study. PR carried out the research. PR and HM analyzed data and co-wrote the manuscript.


This research was funded by a grant (RGPIN 261300-2013) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4412_MOESM1_ESM.docx (97 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 97 kb)
442_2019_4412_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (47 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 46 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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