Maize (Zea mays L.) was grown in fertilized calcareous soil in pots which were separated by 30 μm nylon nets into three compartments, the central one for root growth and the two outer ones for hyphal growth. The size of each compartment was 40 × 25 × 3 cm. The treatments comprised of sterilized soil, either inoculated with rhizosphere microorganisms (other than VA mycorrhizal fungi), with rhizosphere microorganisms together with a VA mycorrhizal fungus [Glomus mosseae (Nicol. & Gerd.) Gerdemann & Trappe] or remained non-inoculated (sterile control). As inoculum for rhizosphere microorganisms the roots with adhering rhizosphere soil of non-mycorrhizal maize plants was used.
Compared to the non-inoculated (sterile) control, inoculation with rhizosphere microorganisms did not affect shoot dry weight and morphology, but increased total root length (17 %) and root length per unit root dry weight (35%). The additional inoculation with VA mycorrhizal fungi had no influence on the shoot dry weight but increased area and dry weight of the leaf blades by about 30% and the ratio leaf blade:leaf sheath + stem (w/w) by 41 %. The most profound effect of VA mycorrhizal fungi inoculation was on root growth and morphology. Compared to the non-inoculated control, root dry weight was decreased by 16%, root length by 31 % and root hair density and length by 41 and 43 %, respectively.
In mycorrhizal plants the transpiration rates per plant were about 30 % higher than in the other treatments and this is attributed to the larger leaf area. Water uptake rate per unit root length and per unit time was about twice as high in mycorrhizal plants. For several reasons a substantial hyphal water transport seems unlikely. The results stress the necessity of detailed studies on root morphology for interpretation of effects of mycorrhizal fungi on mineral nutrient uptake and water relations in plants.