Plant and fungal identity determines pathogen protection of plant roots by arbuscular mycorrhizas


  1. A major benefit of the mycorrhizal symbiosis is that it can protect plants from below-ground enemies, such as pathogens. Previous studies have indicated that plant identity (particularly plants that differ in root system architecture) or fungal identity (fungi from different families within the Glomeromycota) can determine the degree of protection from infection by pathogens. Here, we test the combined effects of plant and fungal identity to assess if there is a strong interaction between these two factors. 2. We paired one of two plants (Setaria glauca, a plant with a finely branched root system and Allium cepa, which has a simple root system) with one of six different fungal species from two families within the Glomeromycota. We assessed the degree to which plant identity, fungal identity and their interaction determined infection by Fusarium oxysporum, a common plant pathogen. 3. Our results show that the interaction between plant and fungal identity can be an important determinant of root infection by the pathogen. Infection by Fusarium was less severe in Allium (simple root system) or when Setaria (complex root system) was associated with a fungus from the family Glomeraceae. We also detected significant plant growth responses to the treatments; the fine-rooted Setaria benefited more from associating with a member of the family Glomeraceae, while Allium benefited more from associating with a member of the family Gigasporaceae. 4. Synthesis. This study supports previous claims that plants with complex root systems are more susceptible to infection by pathogens, and that the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis can reduce infection in such plants – provided that the plant is colonized by a mycorrhizal fungus that can offer protection, such as the isolates of Glomus used here.

Journal of Ecology