University of Oulu

Significance of plant gender and mycorrhizal symbiosis in plant life history traits

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Author: Varga, Sandra1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Department of Biology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2010
Publish Date: 2010-03-09
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Science of the University of Oulu for public defence in Kuusamonsali (Auditorium YB210), Linnanmaa, on 19 March 2010, at 12 noon
Reviewer: Professor Tia-Lynn Ashman
Professor James Bever


Most plants grow in association with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi in their roots forming the so-called AM symbiosis. AM symbiosis is usually beneficial to the host as it improves plant survival and performance. However, AM symbiosis also entails a cost to the plant in terms of the carbon allocated to the fungus. In sexually dimorphic plants, more than one type of individual can be recognised with regard to their sexual expression or gender. The cost of reproduction in these plants will differ in relation to the relative investment in male versus female function, as the female and the male sexual functions incur different costs. This different cost of reproduction may be translated into differences in other plant functions between the sexes as all functions are connected through trade-offs. Therefore, since sexes differ in resource needs and allocation patterns, and AM mediate resource acquisition and allocation patterns through imposing both costs and benefits to the plant, the sexes of dimorphic plant species may possess, at least theoretically, a different relationship with their AM roots symbionts.

In this thesis, I have investigated whether the sexes in sexually dimorphic plant species differ in their mycorrhizal relationship, and if so, in which ways. Several plant life history traits were studied in the dioecious species Antennaria dioica and also in the gynodioecious Geranium sylvaticum using greenhouse, common-garden and field experiments. Resource acquisition, resource allocation, and both plant and fungal benefits from AM symbiosis were considered.

Mainly beneficial effects of AM symbiosis were observed in both sexes of the two dimorphic plant species for most of the studied plant life history traits. Overall, both partners benefited from the AM association. However, several sex-specific benefits were detected which were not uniformly present in all experiments for any given trait. Moreover, the responses observed in certain life history traits were dependent on both the AM fungal and plant species involved in the symbiosis. Remarkably, plants gained sex-specific benefits from the same species of AM fungi and the fungal benefit differed depending on the sex of the host plant. In addition, mycorrhizal benefits were lost under certain environmental conditions.

To summarise, the results obtained in this study highlight the complexity of AM interactions. My results suggest that the plant-mycorrhizal fungus relationship may differ depending on the sex of the host plant. Through sex-specific effects on survival, growth and reproduction of the hosts, AM fungi may play a role in the evolution of the life histories in the studied species. In addition, sex-specific relationships between plants and their mycorrhizal symbionts may have potential important consequences for the population dynamics of the sexual morphs and the coevolution of the mycorrhizal relationship.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. A, Scientiae rerum naturalium
ISSN-E: 1796-220X
ISBN: 978-951-42-6139-8
ISBN Print: 978-951-42-6138-1
Issue: 549
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2010. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.