Arbuscular mycorrhiza is a mutually beneficial biological association between species in the fungal phylum Glomeromycota and higher plants roots. The symbiosis is thought to have afforded green plants the opportunity to invade dry land ca 450 Ma ago and the vast majority of extant terrestrial plants retain this association. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi perform various ecological functions in exchange for host photosynthetic carbon that almost always contribute to the fitness of hosts from an individual to community level. Recent AM fungal research, increasingly delving into the 'Black Box', suggests that species in this phylum may play a key facilitative role in below-ground micro- and meso-organism community dynamics, even more perhaps, that of a bioengineer. The ubiquitous nature of the symbiosis in extant flora and the fact that variations from the AM symbiosis are recent events suggest that Glomeromycota and plant roots coevolved. This review considers aspects of AM fungal ecology emphasizing past and present importance of the phylum in niche to global ecosystem function. Nutrient exchange, evolution, taxonomy, phenology, below-ground microbial interaction, propagule dissemination, invasive plants interactions, the potential role in phytoremediation and some of the factors affecting AM fungal biology are discussed. We conclude that it is essential to include AM association in any study of higher plants in natural environments in order to provide an holistic understanding of ecosystems.
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This is an electronic version of an article published in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 32 (1), pp. 1-20. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences is available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07352689.2012.683375#.U5sF3UpwY3E
- arbuscular mycorrhiza
- ecological complexity
- keystone mutualist
- plant community driver
- soil community facilitator