Common mycorrhizal networks amplify competition by preferential mineral nutrient allocation to large host plants

Joanna Weremijewicz, Leonel da Silveira Lobo O.Reilly Sternberg, David P. Janos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi interconnect plants in common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs) which can amplify competition among neighbors. Amplified competition might result from the fungi supplying mineral nutrients preferentially to hosts that abundantly provide fixed carbon, as suggested by research with organ-cultured roots. We examined whether CMNs supplied (15) N preferentially to large, nonshaded, whole plants. We conducted an intraspecific target-neighbor pot experiment with Andropogon gerardii and several AM fungi in intact, severed or prevented CMNs. Neighbors were supplied (15) N, and half of the target plants were shaded. Intact CMNs increased target dry weight (DW), intensified competition and increased size inequality. Shading decreased target weight, but shaded plants in intact CMNs had mycorrhizal colonization similar to that of sunlit plants. AM fungi in intact CMNs acquired (15) N from the substrate of neighbors and preferentially allocated it to sunlit, large, target plants. Sunlit, intact CMN, target plants acquired as much as 27% of their nitrogen from the vicinity of their neighbors, but shaded targets did not. These results suggest that AM fungi in CMNs preferentially provide mineral nutrients to those conspecific host individuals best able to provide them with fixed carbon or representing the strongest sinks, thereby potentially amplifying asymmetric competition below ground.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-471
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • 15N
  • Andropogon gerardii
  • arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi
  • common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs)
  • competition
  • manganese
  • nitrogen
  • shade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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