Ecological aspects of mycorrhizal symbiosis: with special emphasis on the functional diversity of interactions involving the extraradical mycelium

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Different symbiotic mycorrhizal associations between plants and fungi occur, almost ubiquitously, in a wide range of terrestrial ecosystems. Historically, these have mainly been considered within the rather narrow perspective of their effects on the uptake of dissolved mineral nutrients by individual plants. More recent research has placed emphasis on a wider, multifunctional perspective, including the effects of mycorrhizal symbiosis on plant and microbial communities, and on ecosystem processes. This includes mobilization of N and P from organic polymers, release of nutrients from mineral particles or rock surfaces via weathering, effects on carbon cycling, interactions with myco-heterotrophic plants, mediation of plant responses to stress factors such as drought, soil acidification, toxic metals, and plant pathogens, as well as a range of possible interactions with groups of other soil micro-organisms. Mycorrhizal fungi connect their plant hosts to the heterogeneously distributed nutrients required for their growth, enabling the flow of energy-rich compounds required for nutrient mobilization whilst simultaneously providing conduits for the translocation of mobilized products back to their hosts. In addition to increasing the nutrient absorptive surface area of their host plant root systems, the extraradical mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi provides a direct pathway for translocation of photosynthetically derived carbon to microsites in the soil and a large surface area for interaction with other micro-organisms. The detailed functioning and regulation of these mycorrhizosphere processes is still poorly understood but recent progress is reviewed and potential benefits of improved understanding of mycorrhizosphere interactions are discussed.

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