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Relatedness among arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi drives plant growth and intraspecific fungal coexistence.
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Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) form symbioses with most plant species. They are ecologically important determinants of plant growth and diversity. Considerable genetic variation occurs in AMF populations. Thus, plants are exposed to AMF of varying relatedness to each other. Very little is known about either the effects of coexisting AMF on plant growth or which factors influence intraspecific AMF coexistence within roots. No studies have addressed whether the genetics of coexisting AMF, and more specifically their relatedness, influences plant growth and AMF coexistence. Relatedness is expected to influence coexistence between individuals, and it has been suggested that decreasing ability of symbionts to coexist can have negative effects on the growth of the host. We tested the effect of a gradient of AMF genetic relatedness on the growth of two plant species. Increasing relatedness between AMFs lead to markedly greater plant growth (27% biomass increase with closely related compared to distantly related AMF). In one plant species, closely related AMF coexisted in fairly equal proportions but decreasing relatedness lead to a very strong disequilibrium between AMF in roots, indicating much stronger competition. Given the strength of the effects with such a shallow relatedness gradient and the fact that in the field plants are exposed to a steeper gradient, we consider that AMF relatedness can have a strong role in plant growth and the ability of AMF to coexist. We conclude that AMF relatedness is a driver of plant growth and that relatedness is also a strong driver of intraspecific coexistence of these ecologically important symbionts.
Rhizophagus irregularis, intraspecific competition, coexistence, symbiosis, mycorrhiza
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