The role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in nutrient cycling


Fertilization is necessary for high crop productivity. However it is also a source for the production of particular greenhouse gasses (N20) and it can lead to pollution of aquatic ecosystems when nutrients leach into groundwater. Innovative practices have to be developed to promote an efficient utilization of the soil nutrients, diminish nutrient losses and reduce the need for fertilizer application.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) form symbioses with over 80% of all plants including most crop plants and can forage efficiently for soil nutrients and forward them to the plant. By using AMF as so called biofertilizer, nutrient losses via leaching could be reduced and the sustainability of agricultural production could be increased.

Worldwide there are over 230 AMF species identified. So far it is unknown how the AMF species differ in their benefit for the host plant and their effect on nutrient cycling. Also, the relevance of the mycorrhizal community composition for agro-ecosystems is still unclear. Mycorrhizal communities differ immensely between different land-management practices. Thus their importance for nutrient cycling, plant productivity and, consequently, agricultural application should be investigated.

Using greenhouse and field trials this project focuses on the following questions:

  • Can AMF reduce nutrient losses and improve plant nutrition?
  • How do AMF regulate the nutrient distribution within an ecosystem?
  • How do changing climatic conditions influence mycorrhizal effects?
  • Can mycorrhizal ecosystem functions be enhanced by certain agricultural practices like no-till farming?
  • How do AMF species and the composition of AMF communities affect plant productivity and other ecosystem services?

This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.