Mycorrhizal phenotypes and the Law of the Minimum

Nancy Collins Johnson, Gail W.T. Wilson, Jacqueline A. Wilson, R. Michael Miller, Matthew A. Bowker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

346 Scopus citations


Mycorrhizal phenotypes arise from interactions among plant and fungal genotypes and the environment. Differences in the stoichiometry and uptake capacity of fungi and plants make arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi inherently more nitrogen (N) limited and less phosphorus (P) limited than their host plants. Mutualistic phenotypes are most likely in P-limited systems and commensal or parasitic phenotypes in N-limited systems. Carbon (C) limitation is expected to cause phenotypes to shift from mutualism to commensalism and even parasitism. Two experiments compared the influence of fertilizer and shade on mycorrhizas in Andropogon gerardii across three naturally N-limited or P-limited grasslands. A third experiment examined the interactive effects of N and P enrichment and shade on A. gerardii mycorrhizas. Our experiments generated the full spectrum of mycorrhizal phenotypes. These findings support the hypothesis that mutualism is likely in P-limited systems and commensalism or parasitism is likely in N-limited systems. Furthermore, shade decreased C-assimilation and generated less mutualistic mycorrhizal phenotypes with reduced plant and fungal biomass. Soil fertility is a key controller of mycorrhizal costs and benefits and the Law of the Minimum is a useful predictor of mycorrhizal phenotype. In our experimental grasslands arbuscular mycorrhizas can ameliorate P-limitation but not N-limitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1473-1484
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizas
  • Context dependency
  • Light
  • Mutualism
  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Parasitism
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Stoichiometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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