• mycorrhiza;
  • nutrient mobilization;
  • vegetative mycelium;
  • phosphorus;
  • nitrogen;
  • Paxillus;
  • Betula

The ability of the mycorrhizal fungus Paxillus involutus to mobilize nitrogen and phosphorus from discrete patches of beech (Fagus sylvatica), birch (Betula pendula) and pine (Pinus sylvestris) litter collected from the fermentation horizon of three forest soils, and to transfer the nutrients to colonized B. pendula Roth seedlings, was investigated in transparent observation chambers. The mycelium of P. involutus foraged intensively in all three types of litter, leading to a significant decline in their phosphorus contents after 90 d. Over the same period only one of the litter types, beech, showed more than a 10% loss of its N contents. Exploitation of the litter led to invigoration of the vegetative mycelium of the fungus throughout the chambers as well as to significant increases of biomass production and leaf area in seedlings grown in the plus litter (+L) relative to those in minus litter (−L) systems. The yield increases were associated with gains in whole plant tissue content and concentration of P, but in content only in the case of N. Calculations suggest that a major proportion of the phosphorus lost from litter originated in its organic fraction. The possible basis of the discrepancy between values of N loss from litter and gain by the plant is discussed and the extent to which the distinctive pattern of nutrient mobilization is a feature peculiar to this fungus-plant combination is considered. It is concluded that nutrient mobilization from natural organic substrates in the fermentation horizon of forest soils may be a key function of the vegetative mycelium of mycorrhizal systems. The need for experimental analyses of a greater range of fungus-plant partnerships is stressed.