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The symbiotic recapture of nitrogen from dead mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal roots of tomato plants.

The aim was to quantify the nitrogen (N) transferred via the extra-radical mycelium of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Glomus intraradices from both a dead host and a dead non-host donor root to a receiver tomato plant. The effect of a physical disruption of the soil containing donor plant roots and fungal mycelium on the effectiveness of N transfer was also examined.
The root systems of the donor (wild type tomato plants or the mycorrhiza-defective rmc mutant tomato) and the receiver plants were separated by a 30 ?m mesh, penetrable by hyphae but not by the roots. Both donor genotypes produced a similar quantity of biomass and had a similar nutrient status. Two weeks after the supply of 15?N to a split-root part of donor plants, the shoots were removed to kill the plants. The quantity of N transferred from the dead roots into the receiver plants was measured after a further 2 weeks.
Up to 10.6 % of donor-root 15N was recovered in the receiver plants when inoculated with the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF). The quantity of 15N derived from the mycorrhizal wild type roots clearly exceeded that from the only weakly surface-colonised rmc roots. Hyphal length in the donor rmc root compartments was only about half that in the wild type compartments. The disruption of the soil led to a significantly increased AMF-mediated transfer of N to the receiver plants.
The transfer of N from dead roots can be enhanced by AMF, especially when the donor roots have been formerly colonised by AMF. The transfer can be further increased with higher hyphae length densities, and the present data also suggest that a direct link between receiver mycelium and internal fungal structures in dead roots may in addition facilitate N transfer. The mechanical disruption of soil containing dead roots may increase the subsequent availability of nutrients, thus promoting mycorrhizal N uptake. When associated with a living plant, the external mycelium of G. intraradices is readily able to re-establish itself in the soil following disruption and functions as a transfer vessel.

Mueller, A.; George, E.; Gabriel-Neumann, E. 2013. The symbiotic recapture of nitrogen from dead mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal roots of tomato plants. Plant and Soil 364, 341-355.