Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
Most plants form a close relationship with a group of fungi called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, or AM fungi for short. They form this relationship by growing into plant roots and into the soil. The fungi give plants access to important resources like phosphorus and water. They can also help plants defend themselves against things like diseases and herbivorous insects. AM fungi contribute to overall soil health, they reduce soil phosphorus losses and are important for soil structure.
Why does diversity matter?
There are many hundreds (likely thousands) of species of AM fungi. Just as different species of animals and plants do different things in their ecosystems, AM fungal species differ in their 'functions' in the soil, and they do different things for the plants they connect with. For example, some fungi might be particularly good at helping plants access phosphorus, or enhance their resistance to insects, or some might not be particularly helpful in some circumstances.
We need to find out what the communities of AM fungi look like in our cropping systems, and explore how they differ across Australia and under different management practices. If we can understand this, we will be better equipped to effectively manage these fungi to support crop production while protecting our soil ecosystems.
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Rodriguez & Sanders (2015) The role of community and population ecology in applying mycorrhizal fungi for improved food security ISME Vol. 9, 1053-1061
Frew et al. (2022) Plant herbivore protection by arbuscular mycorrhizas: A role for fungal diversity? New Phytologist, Vol. 233, 1022-1031
Tedersoo, L. et al. (2020) How mycorrhizal associations drive plant population and community biology Science Vol. 367, 6480
Thirkell et al. (2017) Are mycorrhizal fungi our sustainable saviours? Considerations for achieving food security. Journal of Ecology Vol.105, 921-929
Öpik et al. (2013) Global sampling of plant roots expands the described molecular diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhiza, Vol. 23, 411-430