The effect of excess nitrogen alone, and in combination with phosphorus and magnesium starvation, on the production of extramatrical mycelium was studied in Scots pine seedlings ectomycorrhizal with Laccaria bicolor (R. Mre.) Orton, Hebeloma crustuliniforme (Bull, ex St-Amans) Quel. and Suillus bovinus (L. ex Fr.) O. Kuntze. Seedlings were grown in a semi-hydroponic cultivation system and the ergosterol assay was used to estimate fungal biomass. The mycelial biomass increased rapidly when N was kept low (10–20 mg l−1) and in balance with other nutrients, but no extramatrical mycelium was produced when the N concentration was raised to 200 mg l−1. The growth of the extramatrical mycelium resumed when the excess N treatment was terminated and the seedlings were returned to a low nutrient regime, Laccaria showing more complete resumption of growth than Suillus, while Hebeloma had a low production of extramatrical mycelium in all treatments. Compared with the external mycelium, the amount of fungal tissue on the mycorrhizal roots (mantle and Hartig net) was much less affected by the high N treatment. P starvation increased the production of extramatrical mycelium tenfold, with almost no difference between high and low N nutrient regimes, while Mg starvation had no effect on the fungal biomass. The high N treatment lowered P and particularly Mg concentration of the needles, regardless of the mycorrhizal status of the plant.
It is suggested that nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere may damage the function of mycorrhiza even before root tip studies reveal any decline in the symbiotic state. On the other hand, moderate nitrogen fertilization of forest land unaffected by nitrogen pollution is likely to have only passing effects on mycorrhizal development.