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Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi as (agro)ecosystem engineers

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Symbiotic interactions have been shown to facilitate shifts in the structure and function of host plant communities. For example, parasitic plants can induce changes in plant diversity through the suppression of competitive community dominants. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi have also be shown to induce shifts in host communities by increasing host plant nutrient uptake and growth while suppressing non-mycorrhizal species. AM fungi can therefore function as ecosystem engineers facilitating shifts in host plant communities though the presumed physiological suppression of non-contributing or non-mycorrhizal plant species. This dichotomy in plant response to AM fungi has been suggested as a tool to suppress weed species (many of which are non-mycorrhizal) in agro-ecosystems where mycorrhizal crop species are cultivated. Rinaudo et al. (2010), this issue, have demonstrated that AM fungi can suppress pernicious non-mycorrhizal weed species including Chenopodium album (fat hen) while benefiting the crop plant Helianthus annuus (sunflower). These findings now suggest a future for harnessing AM fungi as agro-ecosystem engineers representing potential alternatives to costly and environmentally damaging herbicides.

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DDC would like to thank Natural Environment Research Council UK for financial support (independent research fellowship: NE/E014070/1) and Dr Jonathan Leake and Prof. Sir David Read FRS (University of Sheffield) for valuable discussions and Dr Katie Field (University of Sheffield) for assistance with preparing Fig. 1.

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Correspondence to Duncan D. Cameron.

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Responsible Editor: Angela Hodge.

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Cameron, D.D. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi as (agro)ecosystem engineers. Plant Soil 333, 1–5 (2010).

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