Plant roots and the associated mycorrhizal fungal hyphae often selectively proliferate into patchily distributed soil nutrient hotspots, but interactions between these two components of a mycorrhizal root system are usually ignored or experimentally isolated in nutrient foraging studies. From studies in which both roots and mycorrhizal hyphae had access to nutrient hotspots, we compiled data on root foraging precision (increase in roots in nutrient hotspots relative to outside hotspots) of plant species from different ecosystems, ranging from temperate grasslands to subtropical forests. We found that root foraging precision across the wide range of plant species was strongly influenced by root morphology and mycorrhizal type. The precision of root nutrient foraging, as a plant functional trait, may coordinate with other root traits that are related to the economics of nutrient acquisition. High foraging precision is expected to associate with the strategy of fast return on the investment in roots, such as low construction cost, high metabolic rate and rapid turnover. Nutrient foraging by mycorrhizal fungi alone may be influenced by functional traits such as hyphal exploration distance, hyphal turnover, and hyphal uptake capacity and efficiency, but such data are limited to a small portion of mycorrhizal fungal species. We propose a conceptual framework in which to simulate nitrogen and phosphorus acquisition from both nutrient hotspots and outside hotspots in mixed-species plant communities. Simulation outputs suggest that plant species with varying root morphology and mycorrhizal type can be adaptive to a range of nutrient heterogeneity. Although there are still knowledge gaps related to nutrient foraging, as well as many unexplored plant and fungal species, we suggest that scaling nutrient foraging from individual plants to communities would advance understanding of plant species interactions and below-ground ecosystem function. A plain language summary is available for this article.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics