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.
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).
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.
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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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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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
- Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
- Plant defence
- Resource allocation