Interactions between biochar and mycorrhizal fungi in a water-stressed agricultural soil

Abstract

Biochar may alleviate plant water stress in association with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi but research has not been conclusive. Therefore, a glasshouse experiment was conducted to understand how interactions between AM fungi and plants respond to biochar application under water-stressed conditions. A twin chamber pot system was used to determine whether a woody biochar increased root colonisation by a natural AM fungal population in a pasture soil (‘field’ chamber) and whether this was associated with increased growth of extraradical AM fungal hyphae detected by plants growing in an adjacent (‘bait’) chamber containing irradiated soil. The two chambers were separated by a mesh that excluded roots. Subterranean clover was grown with and without water stress and harvested after 35, 49 and 63 days from each chamber. When biochar was applied to the field chamber under water-stressed conditions, shoot mass increased in parallel with mycorrhizal colonisation, extraradical hyphal length and shoot phosphorus concentration. AM fungal colonisation of roots in the bait chamber indicated an increase in extraradical mycorrhizal hyphae in the field chamber. Biochar had little effect on AM fungi or plant growth under well-watered conditions. The biochar-induced increase in mycorrhizal colonisation was associated with increased growth of extraradical AM fungal hyphae in the pasture soil under water-stressed conditions.

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Acknowledgments

We appreciate the contributions of Ms Aimee Martin and Mr James Gee who volunteered their time in helping in the glasshouse, laboratory and potting rooms. Additionally, we thank the Soil Biology and Molecular Ecology Group at The University of Western Australia for providing the positive environment in which to conduct this experiment.

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Correspondence to Bede S. Mickan.

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Supplementary Fig. 1

Dry shoot mass of Trifolium subterraneum in the bait chamber harvested at 35, 49, and 63 days after emergence (DAE) for the (a) water stressed (30 % field capacity) and (b) well watered treatments. BC = 2 % w/w biochar, NB = 0 % w/w biochar applied to the field chamber; WS = water stressed and WW = well watered treatments. Error bars show standard errors of the mean (n = 3). * significance p < 0.05. (PNG 27 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Dry root mass of Trifolium subterraneum in the bait chamber harvested at 35, 49, and 63 days after emergence (DAE) for the (a) water stressed (30 % field capacity) and (b) well watered treatments. BC = 2 % w/w biochar, NB = 0 % w/w biochar applied to the field chamber; WS = water stressed and WW = well watered treatments. Error bars show standard errors of the mean (n = 3). * significance p < 0.05. (PNG 25 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 3

Hyphal length in soil in the bait chamber with distance (1, 5 and 9 cm) from the mesh barrier at 35 and 49 days after emergence (DAE) for well watered and water stressed treatments. WSBC = water stress/biochar, WWBC = well watered/biochar, WSNB = water stress/no biochar, WWNB = well watered/no biochar. Biochar applied to the field chamber only. Error bars show standard errors of the mean (n = 3). (PNG 36 kb)

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Mickan, B.S., Abbott, L.K., Stefanova, K. et al. Interactions between biochar and mycorrhizal fungi in a water-stressed agricultural soil. Mycorrhiza 26, 565–574 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00572-016-0693-4

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Keywords

  • Biochar
  • Water stress
  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Extraradical hyphal spread