An arbuscular mycorrhizal inoculum enhances root proliferation in, but not nitrogen capture from, nutrient-rich patches in soil



Most work on root proliferation to a localized nutrient supply has ignored the possible role of mycorrhizal fungi, despite their key role in nutrient acquisition. Interactions between roots of Plantago lanceolata, an added arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) inoculum and nitrogen capture from an organic patch (Lolium perenne shoot material) dual-labelled with 15N and 13C were investigated, to determine whether root proliferation and nitrogen (N) capture was affected by the presence of AM fungi. Decomposition of the organic patch in the presence and absence of roots peaked in all treatments at day 3, as shown by the amounts of 13CO2 detected in the soil atmosphere. Plant N concentrations were higher in the treatments with added inoculum 10 d after patch addition, but thereafter did not differ among treatments. Plant phosphorus concentrations at the end of the experiment were depressed by the addition of the organic residue in the absence of mycorrhizal inoculum. Although uninoculated plants were also colonized by mycorrhizal fungi, colonization was enhanced at all times by the added inoculum. Addition of the AM inoculum increased root production, observed in situ by the use of minirhizotron tubes, most pronouncedly within the organic patch zone. Patch N capture by the end of the experiment was c. 7.5% and was not significantly different as a result of adding an AM inoculum. Furthermore, no 13C enrichments were detected in the plant material in any of the treatments showing that intact organic compounds were not taken up. Thus, although the added AM fungal inoculum benefited P. lanceolata seedlings in terms of P concentrations of tissues it did not increase total N capture or affect the form in which N was captured by P. lanceolata roots.