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Keywords:

  • mycorrhiza-mediated resource partitioning;
  • phosphorus pulse;
  • rhizosphere carboxylates;
  • rhizosphere pH;
  • root exudates

Abstract

Pastures often experience a pulse of phosphorus (P) when fertilized. We examined the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in the uptake of P from a pulse. Five legumes (Kennedia prostrata, Cullen australasicum, Bituminaria bituminosa, Medicago sativa and Trifolium subterraneum) were grown in a moderate P, sterilized field soil, either with (+AMF) or without (−AMF) addition of unsterilized field soil. After 9–10 weeks, half the pots received 15 mg P kg−1 of soil. One week later, we measured: shoot and root dry weights; percentage of root length colonized by AMF; plant P, nitrogen and manganese (Mn) concentrations; and rhizosphere carboxylates, pH and plant-available P. The P pulse raised root P concentration by a similar amount in uncolonized and colonized plants, but shoot P concentration increased by 143% in uncolonized plants and 53% in colonized plants. Inoculation with AMF decreased the amount of rhizosphere carboxylates by 52%, raised rhizosphere pH by ∼0.2–0.7 pH units and lowered shoot Mn concentration by 38%. We conclude that AMF are not simply a means for plants to enhance P uptake when P is limiting, but also act to maintain shoot P within narrow boundaries and can affect nutrient uptake through their influence on rhizosphere chemistry.