Mycorrhizas alter nitrogen acquisition by the terrestrial orchid Cymbidium goeringii

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Background and Aims

Orchid mycorrhizas exhibit a unique type of mycorrhizal symbiosis that occurs between fungi and plants of the family Orchidaceae. In general, the roots of orchids are typically coarse compared with those of other plant species, leading to a considerably low surface area to volume ratio. As a result, orchids are often ill-adapted for direct nutrient acquisition from the soil and so mycorrhizal assocaitions are important. However, the role of the fungal partners in the acquisition of inorganic and organic N by terrestrial orchids has yet to be clarified.


Inorganic and amino acid N uptake by non-mycorrhizal and mycorrhizal Cymbidium goeringii seedlings, which were grown in pots in a greenhouse, was investigated using a 15N-labelling technique in which the tracer was injected at two different soil depths, 2·5 cm or 7·5 cm. Mycorrhizal C. goeringii seedlings were obtained by inoculation with three different mycorrhizal strains isolated from the roots of wild terrestrial orchids (two C. goeringii and one C. sinense).

Key Results

Non-mycorrhizal C. goeringii primarily took up NO3− from tracers injected at 2·5-cm soil depth, whereas C. goeringii inoculated with all three mycorrhiza primarily took up NH4+ injected at the same depth. Inoculation of the mycorrhizal strain MLX102 (isolated from adult C. sinense) on C. goeringii roots only significantly increased the below-ground biomass of the C. goeringii; however, it enhanced 15NH4+ uptake by C. goeringii at 2·5-cm soil depth. Compared to the uptake of tracers injected at 2·5-cm soil depth, the MLX102 fungal strain strongly enhanced glycine-N uptake by C. goeringii from tracers injected at 7·5-cm soil depth. Cymbidium goeringii inoculated with CLB113 and MLX102 fungal strains demonstrated a similar N uptake pattern to tracers injected at 2·5-cm soil depth.


These findings demonstrate that mycorrhizal fungi are able to switch the primary N source uptake of a terrestrial orchid, in this case C. goeringii, from NO3− to NH4+. The reasons for variation in N uptake in the different soil layers may be due to possible differentiation in the mycorrhizal hyphae of the C. goeringii fungal partner.

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