Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 1, pp 17–29 | Cite as

Nitrogen limitation impairs plant control over the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis in response to phosphorus and shading in two European sand dune species

  • Martina FriedeEmail author
  • Stephan Unger
  • Lukas Heuer
  • Robin Stammes
  • Wolfram Beyschlag


The symbiosis of plants with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) may become parasitic if the cost:benefit ratio (carbon:phosphorus ratio) increases. In case of mycorrhizal parasitism, a plant may prevent growth depression through the reduction of root colonization as a form of control over the symbiosis. In this greenhouse study, we attempted to manipulate the cost:benefit ratio of the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis by shading and/or phosphorus (P) fertilization in the differentially mycotrophic plant species Hieracium pilosella and Corynephorus canescens. By repeated sampling of soil cores, we assessed the temporal progress of plant investment towards mycorrhizal structures as a measure of plant control over the AMF. Unexpectedly, we found no obvious treatment effects on mycorrhizal growth dependency (MGD), most likely caused by constant N-limitation in AM plants being enhanced by P-fertilization and shade probably not exacerbating plant C-budget for AMF. This highlights the importance of N:P:C stoichiometry for the outcome of the symbiosis. Nevertheless, we found possible control mechanisms in shaded H. pilosella, with considerably higher resource investments into root than into hyphal growth, while root colonization was only marginally suppressed. This control only manifested after 4 weeks of growth under potentially detrimental conditions, emphasizing the importance of time in plant control over the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis. In contrast, the less mycotrophic C. canescens did not exhibit obvious changes in mycorrhizal investments in reaction to shading and P-fertilization, possibly because the low mycotrophy and AMF colonization already imposes a functioning control mechanism in this species. Our study suggests that highly mycotrophic plants may have a stronger need to keep AMF in check than less mycotrophic plants, which may have implications for the role of mycotrophy in the outcome of symbiotic interactions in natural situations.


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi mutualism Parasitism Mycotrophy Hieracium pilosella Corynephorus canescens 



The authors wish to thank Elke Furlkröger, Christine Schlüter, and Barbara Teichner for support with plant cultivation, harvest, and laboratory work and an anonymous Reviewer for valuable suggestions on the manuscript.

Supplementary material

11258_2017_774_MOESM1_ESM.tiff (18.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (TIFF 18843 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental and Systems EcologyUniversity of BielefeldBielefeldGermany

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