Plant-driven weathering of apatite – the role of an ectomycorrhizal fungus

Authors

  • M. M. Smits,

    1. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, UK
    2. Centre for Environmental Sciences, Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium
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  • S. Bonneville,

    1. Earth and Biosphere Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
    2. Biogeochimie – Systeme Terre, Departement des Sciences de la Terre et de l’Environnement, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, Belgium
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  • L. G. Benning,

    1. Earth and Biosphere Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
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  • S. A. Banwart,

    1. Kroto Research Institute, North Campus, University of Sheffield, Broad Lane, Sheffield, UK
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  • J. R. Leake

    1. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, UK
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Corresponding author: M. M. Smits. Tel.: +32 11 268224; fax: +32 11 26801; e-mail: mark.smits@uhasselt.be

Abstract

Ectomycorrhizal (EcM) fungi are increasingly recognized as important agents of mineral weathering and soil development, with far-reaching impacts on biogeochemical cycles. Because EcM fungi live in a symbiotic relationship with trees and in close contact with bacteria and archaea, it is difficult to distinguish between the weathering effects of the fungus, host tree and other micro-organisms. Here, we quantified mineral weathering by the fungus Paxillus involutus, growing in symbiosis with Pinus sylvestris under sterile conditions. The mycorrhizal trees were grown in specially designed sterile microcosms in which the supply of soluble phosphorus (P) in the bulk media was varied and grains of the calcium phosphate mineral apatite mixed with quartz, or quartz alone, were provided in plastic wells that were only accessed by their fungal partner. Under P limitation, pulse labelling of plants with 14CO2 revealed plant-to-fungus allocation of photosynthates, with 17 times more 14C transferred into the apatite wells compared with wells with only quartz. Fungal colonization increased the release of P from apatite by almost a factor of three, from 7.5 (±1.1) × 10−10 mol m−2 s−1 to 2.2 (±0.52) × 10−9 mol m−2 s−1. On increasing the P supply in the microcosms from no added P, through apatite alone, to both apatite and orthophosphate, the proportion of biomass in roots progressively increased at the expense of the fungus. These three observations, (i) proportionately more plant energy investment in the fungal partner under P limitation, (ii) preferential fungal transport of photosynthate-derived carbon towards patches of apatite grains and (iii) fungal enhancement of weathering rate, reveal the tightly coupled plant–fungal interactions underpinning enhanced EcM weathering of apatite and its utilization as P source.

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