Plant nitrogen acquisition and interactions under elevated carbon dioxide: impact of endophytes and mycorrhizae


Shuijin Hu, fax +1 919 513 1279, e-mail:


Both endophytic and mycorrhizal fungi interact with plants to form symbiosis in which the fungal partners rely on, and sometimes compete for, carbon (C) sources from their hosts. Changes in photosynthesis in host plants caused by atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) enrichment may, therefore, influence those mutualistic interactions, potentially modifying plant nutrient acquisition and interactions with other coexisting plant species. However, few studies have so far examined the interactive controls of endophytes and mycorrhizae over plant responses to atmospheric CO2 enrichment. Using Festuca arundinacea Schreb and Plantago lanceolata L. as model plants, we examined the effects of elevated CO2 on mycorrhizae and endophyte (Neotyphodium coenophialum) and plant nitrogen (N) acquisition in two microcosm experiments, and determined whether and how mycorrhizae and endophytes mediate interactions between their host plant species. Endophyte-free and endophyte-infected F. arundinacea varieties, P. lanceolata L., and their combination with or without mycorrhizal inocula were grown under ambient (400 μmol mol−1) and elevated CO2 (ambient + 330 μmol mol−1). A 15N isotope tracer was used to quantify the mycorrhiza-mediated plant acquisition of N from soil. Elevated CO2 stimulated the growth of P. lanceolata greater than F. arundinacea, increasing the shoot biomass ratio of P. lanceolata to F. arundinacea in all the mixtures. Elevated CO2 also increased mycorrhizal root colonization of P. lanceolata, but had no impact on that of F. arundinacea. Mycorrhizae increased the shoot biomass ratio of P. lanceolata to F. arundinacea under elevated CO2. In the absence of endophytes, both elevated CO2 and mycorrhizae enhanced 15N and total N uptake of P. lanceolata but had either no or even negative effects on N acquisition of F. arundinacea, altering N distribution between these two species in the mixture. The presence of endophytes in F. arundinacea, however, reduced the CO2 effect on N acquisition in P. lanceolata, although it did not affect growth responses of their host plants to elevated CO2. These results suggest that mycorrhizal fungi and endophytes might interactively affect the responses of their host plants and their coexisting species to elevated CO2.