PerspectiveEcology

Underground networking

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Science  15 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6283, pp. 290-291
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4694

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Summary

Almost all land plants, including most trees, shrubs, and herbs, form symbiotic associations with mycorrhizal fungi (1). These soil fungi acquire nutrients that they transfer to their plant hosts in exchange for carbon (see the photo). Plants in natural vegetation can acquire up to 80% of nitrogen and phosphorus from their mycorrhizal associates (2). Individual mycorrhizal fungi can simultaneously colonize many plant hosts of the same species or different species. As a result, plants in natural communities are interconnected by mycorrhizal networks. Earlier studies with small tree seedlings revealed that carbon is transferred from one plant to another through these underground mycorrhizal pipelines (3). On page 342 of this issue, Klein et al. (4) show that interplant carbon transfer is not confined to tree seedlings.