Tracking plant preference for higher-quality mycorrhizal symbionts under varying CO2 conditions over multiple generations

Gijsbert D.A. Werner*, Yeling Zhou, Corné M.J. Pieterse, E. Toby Kiers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The symbiosis between plants and root-colonizing arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi is one of the most ecologically important examples of interspecific cooperation in the world. AM fungi provide benefits to plants; in return plants allocate carbon resources to fungi, preferentially allocating more resources to higher-quality fungi. However, preferential allocations from plants to symbionts may vary with environmental context, particularly when resource availability affects the relative value of symbiotic services. We ask how differences in atmospheric CO2-levels influence root colonization dynamics between AMF species that differ in their quality as symbiotic partners. We find that with increasing CO2-conditions and over multiple plant generations, the more beneficial fungal species is able to achieve a relatively higher abundance. This suggests that increasing atmospheric carbon supply enables plants to more effectively allocate carbon to higher-quality mutualists, and over time helps reduce lower-quality AM abundance. Our results illustrate how environmental context may affect the extent to which organisms structure interactions with their mutualistic partners and have potential implications for mutualism stability and persistence under global change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-87
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number1
Early online date23 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • context-dependence
  • global change
  • mutualism
  • rewards
  • sanction

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