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Assessing the dual-mycorrhizal status of a widespread tree species as a model for studies on stand biogeochemistry

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Viewing plant species by their mycorrhizal type has explained a range of ecosystem processes. However, mycorrhizal type is confounded with plant phylogeny and the environments in which mycorrhizal partners occur. To circumvent these confounding effects, “dual-mycorrhizal” plant species may be potential models for testing the influence of mycorrhizal type on stand biogeochemistry. To assess their use as models, duality in mycorrhizas within a single host species must be confirmed and factors underlying their variation understood. We surveyed roots, soils, and leaves of mature aspen (Populus tremuloides) across 27 stands in western Canada spanning two biomes: boreal forest and parklands. Aspen roots were mostly ectomycorrhizal with sporadic and rare occurrences of arbuscular mycorrhizas. We further tested whether a climate moisture index predicted abundance of ectomycorrhizal roots (number of ectomycorrhizal root tips m−1 root length) surveyed at two depths (0–20 cm and 20–40 cm) and found that ectomycorrhizal root abundance in subsoils (20–40 cm) was positively related to the index. We subsequently examined the relationships between ectomycorrhizal root abundance, leaf traits, and slow and fast pools of soil organic carbon and nitrogen. The ratio of leaf lignin:N, but not its components, increased along with ectomycorrhizal root abundance in subsoils. Soil carbon and nitrogen pools were independent of ectomycorrhizal root abundance. Our results suggest that (1) categorizing aspen as dual-mycorrhizal may overstate the functional importance of arbuscular mycorrhizas in this species and life stage, (2) water availability influences ectomycorrhizal root abundance, and (3) ectomycorrhizal root abundance coincides with leaf quality.

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Data Availability

The datasets analyzed during the current study are available in the University of Alberta Dataverse repository,


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Brea Burton, Christine Simard, Jason Eerkes, and Nicholas Brown collected field samples with JK. JK also had help from Ariel Brown, Paul Metzler, and Serena Farrugia to pick roots from soils. NE’s lab and Pak Chow analyzed amino sugars. Amy Nixon, Kelly Karst, and Kelsey Krause provided free lodging during the field survey. Sincere thanks to the Peace River Conservation Officers for trapping a problem bear. Mike Michaelian and Ted Hogg from the Canadian Forest Service facilitated access to the field sites and gave feedback on the manuscript. Location, aspen basal area, and climate moisture index data provided by the Canadian Forest Service (Natural Resources Canada). Melanie Jones and Richard Phillips provided constructive feedback on the manuscript.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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JK conceived, designed, and performed the survey with input from JB. JK analyzed data with guidance from JB. JF, AS, JB, and AL processed samples. NE developed methods for quantifying amino sugars. JK wrote first draft of manuscript, and all authors contributed substantially to revisions.

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Correspondence to Justine Karst.

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Karst, J., Franklin, J., Simeon, A. et al. Assessing the dual-mycorrhizal status of a widespread tree species as a model for studies on stand biogeochemistry. Mycorrhiza 31, 313–324 (2021).

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