Soil Ecology Restoration Group

last update February 29, 2000

What is the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in plant-to-ecosystem responses to elevated atmospheric CO2?



We advocate the concept of an arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) as a temporally and spatially complex symbiosis representing a suite of hosts and fungi, as against the more traditional "dual organism" view. We use the hierarchical framework presented in Fig. 1 as a basis for organizing many unanswered questions, and several questions that have not been asked, concerning the role of AM in responses to elevated atmospheric CO2. We include the following levels: plant host, plant population, plant community, functional group and ecosystem. Measurements of the contributions of AM fungi at the various levels require the use of different response variables. For example, hyphal nutrient translocation rates or percent AM root infection may be important measures at the individual plant level, but hyphal biomass or glomalin production and turnover are more relevant at the ecosystem level. There is a discrepancy between our knowledge of the multifaceted role of AM fungi in plant and ecosystem ecology and most of the current research aimed at elucidating the importance of this symbiosis in global-change scenarios. Our framework for more integrated and multifactorial research on mycorrhizal involvement in regulating CO2 responses may also serve to enhance communication between researchers working at different scales on large global-change ecosystem projects.