• arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi;
  • ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi;
  • mycorrhizal associations;
  • plant–microbial feedbacks;
  • rhizosphere


Understanding the context dependence of ecosystem responses to global changes requires the development of new conceptual frameworks. Here we propose a framework for considering how tree species and their mycorrhizal associates differentially couple carbon (C) and nutrient cycles in temperate forests. Given that tree species predominantly associate with a single type of mycorrhizal fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi or ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi), and that the two types of fungi differ in their modes of nutrient acquisition, we hypothesize that the abundance of AM and ECM trees in a plot, stand, or region may provide an integrated index of biogeochemical transformations relevant to C cycling and nutrient retention. First, we describe how forest plots dominated by AM tree species have nutrient economies that differ in their C–nutrient couplings from those in plots dominated by ECM trees. Secondly, we demonstrate how the relative abundance of AM and ECM trees can be used to estimate nutrient dynamics across the landscape. Finally, we describe how our framework can be used to generate testable hypotheses about forest responses to global change factors, and how these dynamics can be used to develop better representations of plant–soil feedbacks and nutrient constraints on productivity in ecosystem and earth system models.