Stressed out symbiotes: hypotheses for the influence of abiotic stress on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Niall S. Millar, Alison E. Bennett (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Abiotic stress is a widespread threat to both plant and soil communities. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi can alleviate effects of abiotic stress by improving host plant stress tolerance, but the direct effects of abiotic stress on AM fungi are less well understood. We propose two hypotheses predicting how AM fungi will respond to abiotic stress. The stress exclusion hypothesis predicts that AM fungal abundance and diversity will decrease with persistent abiotic stress. The mycorrhizal stress adaptation hypothesis predicts that AM fungi will evolve in response to abiotic stress to maintain their fitness. We conclude that abiotic stress can have effects on AM fungi independent of the effects on the host plant. AM fungal communities will change in composition in response to abiotic stress, which may mean the loss of important individual species. This could alter feedbacks to the plant community and beyond. AM fungi will adapt to abiotic stress independent of their host plant. The adaptation of AM fungi to abiotic stress should allow the maintenance of the plant-AM fungal mutualism in the face of changing climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-641
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Early online date27 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Soil
  • Adaptation
  • Community
  • Symbiosis
  • Climate change


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