Resource limitation is a driver of local adaptation in mycorrhizal symbioses

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

534 Scopus citations


Symbioses may be important mechanisms of plant adaptation to their environment. We conducted a reciprocal inoculation experiment to test the hypothesis that soil fertility is a key driver of local adaptation in arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbioses. Ecotypes of Andropogon gerardii from phosphorus-limited and nitrogenlimited grasslands were grown with all possible "home and away" combinations of soils and AM fungal communities. Our results indicate that Andropogon ecotypes adapt to their local soil and indigenousAMfungal communities such that mycorrhizal exchange of the most limiting resource is maximized. Grasses grown in home soil and inoculated with home AM fungi produced more arbuscules (symbiotic exchange structures) in their roots than those grown in away combinations. Also, regardless of the host ecotype, AM fungi produced more extraradical hyphae in their home soil, and locally adapted AM fungi were, therefore, able to sequester more carbon compared with nonlocal fungi. Locally adapted mycorrhizal associations were more mutualistic in the two phosphorus-limited sites and less parasitic at the nitrogen-limited site compared with novel combinations of plants, fungi, and soils. To our knowledge, these findings provide the strongest evidence to date that resource availability generates evolved geographic structure in symbioses among plants and soil organisms. Thus, edaphic origin of AM fungi should be considered when managing for their benefits in agriculture, ecosystem restoration, and soil-carbon sequestration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2093-2098
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 2 2010


  • Coevolution
  • Geographic mosaics
  • Mutualism
  • Parasitism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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