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Keywords:

  • amino acid metabolism;
  • Eucalyptus sp.;
  • mycorrhizal colonization;
  • nitrogen utilization;
  • soil nitrogen

ABSTRACT

Analysis of soil solution from forest sites dominated by Eucalyptus grandis and Eucalyptus maculata indicates that soluble forms of organic nitrogen (amino acids and protein) are present in concentrations similar to those of mineral nitrogen (nitrate and ammonium). Experiments were conducted to determine the extent to which mycorrhizal associations might broaden nitrogen source utilization in Eucalyptus seedlings to include organic nitrogen. In isolation, species of ectomycorrhizal fungi from northern Australia show varying abilities to utilize mineral and organic forms of nitrogen as sole sources. Pisolithus sp. displayed strongest growth on NH4+, glutamine and asparagine, but grew poorly on protein, while Amanita sp. grew well both on mineral sources and on a range of organic sources (e.g. arginine, asparagine, glutamine and protein). In sterile culture, non-mycorrhizal seedlings of Eucalyptus grandis and Eucalyptus maculata grew well on mineral sources of nitrogen, but showed no ability to grow on sources of organic nitrogen other than glutamine. In contrast, mycorrhizal seedlings grew well on a range of organic nitrogen sources. These observations indicate that mycorrhizal associations confer on species of Eucalyptus the ability to broaden their resource base substantially with respect to nitrogen. This ability to utilize organic nitrogen was not directly related to that of the fungal symbiont in isolation. Seedlings mycorrhizal with Pisolithus sp. were able to assimilate sources of nitrogen (in particular histidine and protein) on which the fungus in pure culture appeared to grow weakly. Experiments in which plants were fed 15N-labelled ammonium were undertaken in order to investigate the influence of mycorrhizal colonization on the pathway of nitrogen metabolism. In roots and shoots of all seedlings, 15N was incorporated into the amide group of glutamine, and label was also found in the amino groups of glutamine, glutamic acid, γ-aminobutyric acid and alanine. Mycorrhizal colonization appeared to have no effect on the assimilation pathway and metabolism of [15N]H4+; labelling data were consistent with the operation of the glutamate synthase cycle in plants infected with either Pisolithus sp. (which in isolation assimilates via the glutamate synthase cycle) or Elaphomyces sp. (which assimilates via glutamate dehydrogenase). It is likely that the control of carbon supply to the mycorrhizal fungus from the host may have a profound effect on both the assimilatory pathway and the range of nitrogen sources that can be utilized by the association.