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Arbuscular Mycorrhiza Alleviates Restrictions to Substrate Water Flow and Delays Transpiration Limitation to Stronger Drought in Tomato

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) proliferate in soil pores, on the surface of soil particles and affect soil structure. Although modifications in substrate moisture retention depend on structure and could influence plant water extraction, mycorrhizal impacts on water
retention and hydraulic conductivity were rarely quantified. Hence, we asked whether inoculation with AMF affects substrate water retention, water transport properties and at which drought intensity those factors become limiting for plant transpiration. Solanum lycopersicum plants were set up in the glasshouse, inoculated or not with Funneliformis mosseae, and grown for 35 days under ample water supply. After mycorrhizal establishment, we harvested three sets of plants, one before (36 days after inoculation) and the second (day 42) and third (day 47) within a sequential drying episode. Sampling cores were introduced into pots before planting. After harvest, moisture retention and substrate conductivity properties were assessed and water retention and hydraulic conductivity models were fitted. A root water uptake model was adopted in order to identify the critical substrate moisture that induces soil derived transpiration limitation. Neither substrate porosity nor saturated water contents were affected by inoculation, but both declined after substrates dried. Drying also caused a decline in pot water capacity and hydraulic conductivity. Plant available water contents under wet (pF 1.8–4.2) and dry (pF 2.5–4.2) conditions increased in mycorrhizal substrates and were conserved after drying. Substrate hydraulic conductivity was higher in mycorrhizal pots before and during drought exposure. After withholding water from pots, higher substrate drying rates and lower substrate water potentials were found in mycorrhizal substrates. Mycorrhiza neither affected leaf area nor root weight or length. Consistently with higher substrate drying rates, AMF restored the plant hydraulic status, and increased plant transpiration when soil moisture declined. The water potential at the root surface and the resistance to water flow in the rhizosphere were restored in mycorrhizal pots although the bulk substrate dried more. Finally, substrates colonized by AMF can be more desiccated before substrate water flux quantitatively limits transpiration. This is most pronounced under high transpiration demands and complies with a difference of over 1,000 hPa in substrate water potential.

Bitterlich, M.; Sandmann, M.; Graefe J. 2018. Arbuscular Mycorrhiza Alleviates Restrictions to Substrate Water Flow and Delays Transpiration Limitation to Stronger Drought in Tomato. Frontiers in Plant Science 9:154.

DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00154