Structural plasticity in root-fungal symbioses: Diverse interactions lead to improved plant fitness

Khalil Kariman, Susan Jane Barker, Mark Tibbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Root-fungal symbioses such as mycorrhizas and endophytes are key components of terrestrial ecosystems. Diverse in trophy habits (obligate, facultative or hemi-biotrophs) and symbiotic relations (from mutualism to parasitism), these associations also show great variability in their root colonization and nutritional strategies. Specialized interface structures such as arbuscules and Hartig nets are formed by certain associations while others are restricted to non-specialized intercellular or intracellular hyphae in roots. In either case, there are documented examples of active nutrient exchange, reinforcing the fact that specialized structures used to define specific mycorrhizal associations are not essential for reciprocal exchange of nutrients and plant growth promotion. In feremycorrhiza (with Austroboletus occidentalis and eucalypts), the fungal partner markedly enhances plant growth and nutrient acquisition without colonizing roots, emphasizing that a conventional focus on structural form of associations may have resulted in important functional components of rhizospheres being overlooked. In support of this viewpoint, mycobiome studies using the state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technologies have unearthed much more complexity in root-fungal relationships than those discovered using the traditional morphology-based approaches. In this review, we explore the existing literature and most recent findings surrounding structure, functioning, and ecology of root-fungal symbiosis, which highlight the fact that plant fitness can be altered by taxonomically/ecologically diverse fungal symbionts regardless of root colonization and interface specialization. Furthermore, transition from saprotrophy to biotrophy seems to be a common event that occurs in diverse fungal lineages (consisting of root endophytes, soil saprotrophs, wood decayers etc.), and which may be accompanied by development of specialized interface structures and/or mycorrhiza-like effects on plant growth and nutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere6030
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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