• arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM);
  • symbiotic C–P exchange;
  • nutrient accumulation;
  • phosphorus;
  • carbon limitation


The exchange of carbohydrates and mineral nutrients in the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis must be controlled by both partners in order to sustain an evolutionarily stable mutualism. Plants downregulate their carbon (C) flow to the fungus when nutrient levels are sufficient, while the mechanism controlling fungal nutrient transfer is unknown. Here, we show that the fungus accumulates nutrients when connected to a host that is of less benefit to the fungus, indicating a potential of the fungus to control the transfer of nutrients. We used a monoxenic in vitro model of root organ cultures associated with Glomus intraradices, in which we manipulated the C availability to the plant. We found that G. intraradices accumulated up to seven times more nutrients in its spores, and up to nine times more in its hyphae, when the C pool available to the associated roots was halved. The strongest effect was found for phosphorus (P), considered to be the most important nutrient in the AM symbiosis. Other elements such as potassium and chorine were also accumulated, but to a lesser extent, while no accumulation of iron or manganese was found. Our results suggest a functional linkage between C and P exchange.