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Changes in soil hyphal abundance and viability can alter the patterns of hydraulic redistribution by plant roots


Background and aims

We conducted a mesocosm study to investigate the extent to which the process of hydraulic redistribution of soil water by plant roots is affected by mycorrhizosphere disturbance.


We used deuterium-labeled water to track the transfer of hydraulically lifted water (HLW) from well-hydrated donor oaks (Quercus agrifolia Nee.) to drought-stressed receiver seedlings growing together in mycorrhizal or fungicide-treated mesocosms. We hypothesized that the transfer of HLW from donor to receiver plants would be enhanced in undisturbed (non-fungicide-treated) mesocosms where an intact mycorrhizal hyphal network was present.


Contrary to expectations, both upper soil and receiver seedlings contained significantly greater proportions of HLW in mesocosms where the abundance of mycorrhizal hyphal links between donor and receiver roots had been sharply reduced by fungicide application. Reduced soil hyphal density and viability likely hampered soil moisture retention properties in fungicide-treated mesocosms, thus leading to faster soil water depletion in upper compartments. The resulting steeper soil water potential gradient between taproot and upper compartments enhanced hydraulic redistribution in fungicide-treated mesocosms.


Belowground disturbances that reduce soil hyphal density and viability in the mycorrhizosphere can alter the patterns of hydraulic redistribution by roots through effects on soil hydraulic properties.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2



Hydraulically lifted water


Hydraulic lift


Common mycorrhizal network




Ectomycorrhizal fungi


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi


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This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation Biocomplexity Program (DEB 9981548), and by the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (AGL2006-11234). Francisco M. Padilla made helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. JI Querejeta acknowledges support from the “Ramón y Cajal” Program of the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia. The experiments reported here comply with the current laws of the country in which the experiments were conducted (USA).

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Correspondence to José Ignacio Querejeta.

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José Ignacio Querejeta, Louise M. Egerton-Warburton and Iván Prieto contributed equally to this work.

Responsible Editor: Angela Hodge.

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Querejeta, J.I., Egerton-Warburton, L.M., Prieto, I. et al. Changes in soil hyphal abundance and viability can alter the patterns of hydraulic redistribution by plant roots. Plant Soil 355, 63–73 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-011-1080-8

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  • Hydraulic lift
  • Water redistribution
  • Mycorrhizal fungi
  • Quercus agrifolia
  • Soil water retention properties
  • Mycorrhizosphere disturbance