Coevolution of roots and mycorrhizas of land plants


  • Mark C. Brundrett

    Corresponding author
    1. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, Faculty of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands WA 6097, Australia; Postal address: Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority, West Perth, 6005, Western Australia
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Author for correspondence: Mark C. Brundrett Fax: +1 618 94803641Email:


Here, the coevolution of mycorrhizal fungi and roots is assessed in the light of evidence now available, from palaeobotanical and morphological studies and the analysis of DNA-based phylogenies. The first bryophyte-like land plants, in the early Devonian (400 million years ago), had endophytic associations resembling vesicular–arbuscular mycorrhizas (VAM) even before roots evolved. Mycorrhizal evolution would have progressed from endophytic hyphae towards balanced associations where partners were interdependent due to the exchange of limiting energy and nutrient resources. Most mycorrhizas are mutualistic, but in some cases the trend for increasing plant control of fungi culminates in the exploitative mycorrhizas of achlorophyllous, mycoheterotrophic plants. Ectomycorrhizal, ericoid and orchid mycorrhizas, as well as nonmycorrhizal roots, evolved during the period of rapid angiosperm radiation in the Cretaceous. It is hypothesised that roots gradually evolved from rhizomes to provide more suitable habitats for mycorrhizal fungi and provide plants with complex branching and leaves with water and nutrients. Selection pressures have caused the morphological divergence of roots with different types of mycorrizas. Root cortex thickness and exodermis suberization are greatest in obllgately mycorrhizal plants, while nonmycorrhizal plants tend to have fine roots, with more roots hairs and relatively advanced chemical defences. Major coevolutionary trends and the relative success of plants with different root types are discussed.