Hiding in a crowd—does diversity facilitate persistence of a low-quality fungal partner in the mycorrhizal symbiosis?
- First Online:
Given that arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are not consistently beneficial to their host plants, it is difficult to explain the evolutionary persistence of this relationship. We tested the hypothesis that increasing either fungal or host biodiversity allows an AM fungus to persist on a host where it shows little benefit. We found that growing such a fungus (an isolate of Glomus custos associating with Plantago laceolata) in combination with certain fungi improved its success as measured by mtLSU DNA abundance. Increasing plant species richness facilitated the spread of this fungus as measured by spore density and fungal colonization; the role of host species richness was not as clear when looking at measures of root abundance. These results indicate that diversity in the AM symbiosis, both plant and fungal, can promote the persistence of low-quality fungi. By existing within a complex mycelial network fungal strains that show little growth benefit to their hosts have a better chance of persisting on that same host. This has the potential to promote selection for heterogeneous AM fungal communities on a small spatial scale.