Aboveground resource allocation in response to root herbivory as affected by the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis

Abstract

Aims

Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi associate with the majority of terrestrial plants, influencing their growth, nutrient uptake and defence chemistry. Consequently, AM fungi can significantly impact plant-herbivore interactions, yet surprisingly few studies have investigated how AM fungi affect plant responses to root herbivores. This study aimed to investigate how AM fungi affect plant tolerance mechanisms to belowground herbivory.

Methods

We examined how AM fungi affect plant (Saccharum spp. hybrid) growth, nutrient dynamics and secondary chemistry (phenolics) in response to attack from a root-feeding insect (Dermolepida albohirtum).

Results

Root herbivory reduced root mass by almost 27%. In response, plants augmented investment in aboveground biomass by 25%, as well as increasing carbon concentrations. The AM fungi increased aboveground biomass, phosphorus and carbon. Meanwhile, root herbivory increased foliar phenolics by 31% in mycorrhizal plants, and increased arbuscular colonisation of roots by 75% overall. AM fungi also decreased herbivore performance, potentially via increasing root silicon concentrations.

Conclusions

Our results suggest that AM fungi may be able to augment plant tolerance to root herbivory via resource allocation aboveground and, at the same time, enhance plant root resistance by increasing root silicon. The ability of AM fungi to facilitate resource allocation aboveground in this way may be a more widespread strategy for plants to cope with belowground herbivory.

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Data availability

Data available from the Figshare Repository: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.9831053

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the teams at Sugar Research Australia Ltd. and the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment. Funding was provided by Sugar Research Australia Ltd. (Project no. 2014/104).

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AF, JRP and SNJ planned and designed the research. AF conducted the experimental work and collected the data. AF analysed the data with input from JRP and SNJ. AF led the writing of the manuscript with significant input from JRP and SNJ.

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Correspondence to Adam Frew.

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Frew, A., Powell, J.R. & Johnson, S.N. Aboveground resource allocation in response to root herbivory as affected by the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis. Plant Soil 447, 463–473 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-019-04399-x

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Keywords

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Herbivory
  • Plant defence
  • Tolerance
  • Resource allocation