Plant and Soil

, Volume 344, Issue 1–2, pp 51–71 | Cite as

Ectomycorrhizal fungi: the symbiotic route to the root for phosphorus in forest soils

  • John W. G. CairneyEmail author
Review Article


Many forest trees have evolved mutualistic symbioses with ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi that contribute to their phosphorus (P) nutrition. Forest productivity is frequently limited by P, a phenomenon that is likely to become more widespread under future conditions of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration [CO2]. It is thus timely that this review considers current understanding of the key processes (absorption, translocation and transfer to the plant host) in ECM fungus-mediated P nutrition of forest trees. Solubilisation of inorganic P (Pi) and hydrolysis of organic P by ECM fungi in soil occurs largely at the growing mycelial front, where Pi absorption is facilitated by high affinity transporters. While large gaps remain in our understanding of the physiological and molecular mechanisms that underpin movement of P in ECM mycelia in soil and P transfer to the plant, host P demand seems likely to be a key driver of these processes. ECM fungi may make considerable contributions to meeting the likely increased P demand of trees under elevated [CO2] via increased colonization levels, shifts in ECM fungal community structure and changed patterns of EMM production. Further research into the spatial scale of ECM-mediated P movements in soil, along with the interplay between ECM fungi and other soil microflora is advocated.


Ectomycorrhizal fungi Phosphorus Translocation Fungus:root interface Climate change 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Plants and the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyPenrith South DCAustralia

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