Simple rules for the coexistence and competitive dominance of plants mediated by mycorrhizal fungi




Mycorrhizal fungi have been demonstrated to be important in the makeup of plant communities. Likely, their most important role is in altering mineral nutrition of plants, which, in turn, is thought to be among the most important determinants of plant competitive ability. Using mathematical models we examine what role these fungi can play in determining the competitive outcome between two plants in competition for one mineral resource. Depending on different relationships between the benefit accrued to the plant and the fungi, the presence of mycorrhizal fungi can (i) have no impact on which plant wins in competition, (ii) change the order of competitive dominance or (iii) enable coexistence when compared with the system in the absence of mycorrhizal fungi. Furthermore, environmental conditions, such as light and nutrient levels, can determine if coexistence is possible. We describe the necessary biological trade-offs for coexistence and experimental tests for these trade-offs.