Mycorrhizal community dynamics following nitrogen fertilization: A cross-site test in five grasslands

Louise M. Egerton-Warburton, Nancy Collins Johnson, Edith B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

231 Scopus citations


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are considered both ecologically and physiologically important to many plant communities. As a result, any alteration in AMF community structure following soil nitrogen (N) enrichment may impact plant community function and contribute to widespread changes in grassland productivity. We evaluated the responses of AMF communities to N fertilization (≥100 kg N·ha-1·yr-1) in five perennial grasslands within the Long-Term Ecological Research network to generate a broader understanding of the drivers contributing to AMF species richness and diversity with increasing soil N fertility, and subsequent effects to host-plant communities. AMF spore and hyphal community data at three mesic sites (Cedar Creek, Kellogg Biological Station, Konza Prairie) and two semiarid sites (Sevilleta, Shortgrass Steppe) were collected over two consecutive years and used to test four hypotheses about AMF responses to N fertilization. Under ambient soil N, plant annual net primary productivity and soil phosphorus (P) were strongly related to climatic differences in AMF communities (semiarid vs. mesic). Following N fertilization, the drivers of AMF community structure were soil N availability, N:P supply ratio, and host-plant photosynthetic strategy (C3 vs. C4) but not climate. In P-rich soils (low N:P), N fertilization reduced AMF productivity, species richness, and diversity and intensified AMF community convergence due to the loss of rare AMF species and the increased abundance of Glomus species. In P-limited soils (high N:P), AMF productivity, species richness, and diversity increased with N fertilization; the most responsive AMF taxa were Acaulospora, Scutellospora, and Gigaspora. Soil N or N:P x host-plant (C3, C4) interactions further modified these responses: AMF hyphae (primarily Gigasporaceae) associated with C3 plants increased in abundance with N fertilization, whereas C 4 plants hosted nitrophilous Glomus species. Such responses were independent of the duration or quantity of N fertilization, or the time since cessation of N fertilization. This synthesis provides a new understanding of AMF community patterns and processes, and it identifies three key drivers (soil N, N:P, host plant) of AMF community structure that may be tested in other communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-544
Number of pages18
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • AMF response to N fertilization
  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, AMF
  • C vs. C species and AMF
  • Community structure
  • Diversity
  • Extraradical hyphae
  • Grassland productivity and AMF dynamics
  • LTER sites
  • Soil N:P
  • Species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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