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Keywords:

  • agriculture;
  • cooperation;
  • mutualism;
  • punishment;
  • selection pressures

Abstract

The root systems of most agronomic crops are colonized by diverse assemblages of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), varying in the functional benefits (e.g. nutrient transfer, pathogen protection, water uptake) provided to hosts. Little is known about the evolutionary processes that shape the composition of these fungal assemblages, nor is it known whether more diverse assemblages are beneficial to crop productivity. In this review we aim to identify the evolutionary selection pressures that shape AMF diversity in agricultural systems and explore whether promotion of AMF diversity can convincingly be linked to increases in agricultural productivity and/or sustainability. We then ask whether farmers can (and should) actively modify evolutionary selection pressures to increase AMF functioning. We focus on three agriculturally imposed selection regimes: tillage, fertilization, and continuous monoculture. We find that the uniform nature of these practices strongly selects for dominance of few AMF species. These species exhibit predictable, generally non-beneficial traits, namely heavy investment in reproduction at the expense of nutrient scavenging and transfer processes that are beneficial for hosts. A number of focus-points are given based on empirical and theoretical evidence that could be utilized to slow down negative selection pressures on AMF functioning, therein increasing crop benefit.