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Variability in mycorrhizal status of plant species is much larger within than between plots in grassland and coastal habitats

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Community-level studies linking plant mycorrhizal status to environment usually do not account for within-plot mycorrhizal status variability; thus, patterns of plant mycorrhizal status diversity are largely unknown. Here, we assessed the relative importance of within- and between-plot variability components in mycorrhizal status and examined how plant mycorrhizal status diversity is related to soil nutrient availability. We hypothesised larger between-plot variability in mycorrhizal status and higher plant mycorrhizal status diversity in P-poor soils. To test these hypotheses, we used plant phylogenies, vegetation, soil and plant mycorrhizal status data from Czech semi-natural grasslands and Scottish coastal habitats. We divided plant mycorrhizal status diversity into divergence and evenness and tested their relations to soil P, K, Ca and Mg. Within-plot variability component of mycorrhizal status was always, on average, at least 2.2 times larger than between-plot variability in our datasets. Plant mycorrhizal status divergence was positively related to Ca (in both datasets) and Mg (only in grasslands and when accounting for phylogeny). In grasslands, the relationship between Mg and plant mycorrhizal status evenness was negative when accounting for phylogeny, while it was positive when not accounting for phylogeny. Plant mycorrhizal status diversity was not linked to P and its relation to K was inconsistent. Our results suggest that high Ca in the soil can promote coexistence of mycorrhizal, facultatively mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal plant species. We encourage future studies to also focus on within-plot variability in mycorrhizal status, because it appears to be highly relevant in herbaceous systems.

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We are grateful to Pavla Mládková, Kamil Maralík and Clémence Chaudron for their help with data collecting. The clarity of the manuscript was substantially improved thanks to the suggestions of two anonymous reviewers.


This work was supported by Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (INTER-EXCELLENCE, LTC18056, COST action 16212), Palacký University in Olomouc (IGA_PrF_2020_020) and long-term research development project of the Czech Academy of Sciences (RVO 67985939). MB was supported by the Scholarship of the city of Ostrava. RJP was supported by the Strategic Research Programme of the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division.

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MB conceived the ideas and led writing of the manuscript. MB and RJP designed the study and collected the data. MB analysed the data with help from HS. All authors discussed the results, contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

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Correspondence to Martin Bitomský.

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Communicated by Melinda D. Smith.

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Bitomský, M., Schaefer, H., Pakeman, R.J. et al. Variability in mycorrhizal status of plant species is much larger within than between plots in grassland and coastal habitats. Oecologia 200, 209–219 (2022).

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