, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 71–90 | Cite as

Ectomycorrhizas and water relations of trees: a review

  • Tarja LehtoEmail author
  • Janusz J. Zwiazek


There is plenty of evidence for improved nutrient acquisition by ectomycorrhizas in trees; however, their role in water uptake is much less clear. In addition to experiments showing improved performance during drought by mycorrhizal plants, there are several studies showing reduced root hydraulic conductivity and reduced water uptake in mycorrhizal roots. The clearest direct mechanism for increased water uptake is the increased extension growth and absorbing surface area, particularly in fungal species with external mycelium of the long-distance exploration type. Some studies have found increased aquaporin function and, consequently, increased root hydraulic conductivity in ectomycorrhizal plants while other studies showed no effect of ectomycorrhizal associations on root water flow properties. The aquaporin function of the fungal hyphae is also likely to be important for the uptake of water by the ectomycorrhizal plant, but more work needs to be done in this area. The best-known indirect mechanism for mycorrhizal effects on water relations is improved nutrient status of the host. Others include altered carbohydrate assimilation via stomatal function, possibly mediated by changes in growth regulator balance; increased sink strength in mycorrhizal roots; antioxidant metabolism; and changes in osmotic adjustment. None of these possibilities has been sufficiently explored. The mycorrhizal structure may also reduce water movement because of different fine root architecture (thickness), cell wall hydrophobicity or the larger number of membranes that water has to cross on the way from the soil to the xylem. In future studies, pot experiments comparing mycorrhizal and nonmycorrhizal plants will still be useful in studying well-defined physiological details. However, the quantitative importance of ectomycorrhizas for tree water uptake and water relations can only be assessed by field studies using innovative approaches. Hydraulic redistribution can support nutrient uptake during prolonged dry periods. In large trees with deep root systems, it may turn out that the most important function of mycorrhizas during drought is to facilitate nutrient acquisition.


Ectomycorrhiza Mycelium Mineral nutrient Root conductance Water stress Water uptake 



We thank Pedro J. Aphalo for the constructive comments on the manuscript. The Academy of Finland (decision no.: 123637) provided funding for this study.


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© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forest SciencesUniversity of Eastern FinlandJoensuuFinland
  2. 2.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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