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posted on 13.04.2018, 04:12 authored by Aljosa Zavišić, Nan Yang, Sven Marhan, Ellen Kandeler, Andrea Polle

Phosphorus (P) is an important nutrient, whose plant-available form phosphate is often low in natural forest ecosystems. Mycorrhizal fungi mine the soil for P and supply their host with this resource. It is unknown how ectomycorrhizal communities respond to changes in P availability. Here, we used young beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) trees in natural forest soil from a P-rich and P-poor site to investigate the impact of P amendment on soil microbes, mycorrhizas, beech P nutrition, and photosynthesis. We hypothesized that addition of P to forest soil increased P availability, thereby, leading to enhanced microbial biomass and mycorrhizal diversity in P-poor but not in P-rich soil. We expected that P amendment resulted in increased plant P uptake and enhanced photosynthesis in both soil types. Young beech trees with intact soil cores from a P-rich and a P-poor forest were kept in a common garden experiment and supplied once in fall with triple superphosphate. In the following summer, labile P in the organic layer, but not in the mineral top soil, was significantly increased in response to fertilizer treatment. P-rich soil contained higher microbial biomass than P-poor soil. P treatment had no effect on microbial biomass but influenced the mycorrhizal communities in P-poor soil and shifted their composition toward higher similarities to those in P-rich soil. Plant uptake efficiency was negatively correlated with the diversity of mycorrhizal communities and highest for trees in P-poor soil and lowest for fertilized trees. In both soil types, radioactive P tracing (H333PO4) revealed preferential aboveground allocation of new P in fertilized trees, resulting in increased bound P in xylem tissue and enhanced soluble P in bark, indicating increased storage and transport. Fertilized beeches from P-poor soil showed a strong increase in leaf P concentrations from deficient to luxurious conditions along with increased photosynthesis. Based on the divergent behavior of beech in P-poor and P-rich forest soil, we conclude that acclimation of beech to low P stocks involves dedicated mycorrhizal community structures, low P reserves in storage tissues and photosynthetic inhibition, while storage and aboveground allocation of additional P occurs regardless of the P nutritional status.