The influence of arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization and environment on root development in soil


D. Atkinson. E-mail:


The production of fine roots is one of the principal means by which carbon, fixed during photosynthesis, enters the soil, and quantifying the production for particular combinations of environmental and biotic factors is important for predicting the sequestration of carbon in the soils of grassland ecosystems. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) can have a major effect on the production of roots, and we studied how colonization by AMF affects the lifespan of roots. Twenty per cent of control roots of Trifolium repens survived for longer than 42 days whereas 37% survived that long in AMF-colonized plants. The overall survival of the roots of Lolium perenne was less than in T. repens: around 10% of roots survived beyond 42 days and this was not affected by AMF colonization. Previous studies have shown that lifespans of roots can be affected by temperature. We tested the hypothesis that these observations are linked to a change in the morphology of the root system caused by temperature and also by AMF. We found that inoculation with AMF in a microcosm study using Plantago lanceolata grown at various temperatures, with and without AMF, showed no clear effect of AMF on branching patterns. Temperature had a significant effect on total lengths, numbers and branching rates of some higher orders of roots. Total lengths of both secondary and tertiary roots grown at 27°C were about double those of plants grown at 15°C. Colonization by AMF tended to reduce this effect. Evidently the effect of colonization by AMF on root lifespan depends on the species. Increased branching, and thus a greater proportion of ephemeral roots, was responsible for shortening the lives of the roots at increased temperature, which suggests a strong link between lifespan and morphology.