Mycorrhizal Fungi and Plants

As we near the start to our seminar on Soil Health & Drought Management we thought it would be a great idea to give some background on one of the topics that will be presented at the seminar, mycorrhizal fungi.

While research has yet to unlock all the secrets of the soil, one of the important hidden partners in the soil are a group known as mycorrhizal fungi. Approximately 90% of all plants form some association with mychorrhizal fungi. In fact, it was the partnership with mycorrhizal fungi that allowed plants to begin to colonize dry land and create life on Earth as we know it.

Mycorrhizae are symbiotic relationships that form between fungi and plants. Plants allow mycorrhizal fungi to colonize their roots and use root exudates formed from photosynthesis to supply the fungus with carbohydrates and sugars that the fungi use as a food source and energy. In return, the fungi provide nutrients, especially immobile nutrients like phosphorus, and water to the plants through their extensive network of mycelial hyphae produced by the fungus. The hyphae are fine filaments that extend into the soil and act as extensions of root systems. They are actually more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves.

In addition to helping provide nutrients and moisture to the plants, some mycorrhizal fungi such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi also play a key role in creating water stable soil aggregates, which is important for soil structure and water infiltration into the soil.

They do this by producing glomalin, a very stable carbon based glue. The primary purpose of glomalin is to coat the fungal hyphae to keep water and nutrients from getting lost on the way to the plant. In doing so, the hyphae act as a frame upon which soil particles begin to collect with glomalin gluing them together to eventually form soil aggregates.

In short, mycorrhizal fungi are a key component to soil health and also plant health.

If you’d like to learn more about mycorrhizal fungi and management practices that are favorable to maintaining higher levels of this beneficial fungi in the soil, make plans to participate in the March 23 Soil Health & Drought Management seminar being conduct by the Williams County Soil Conservation District. Caley Gasch, NDSU Assistant Professor of Soil Health, will talk about mycorrhizal fungi and the symbiotic relationship they form with plants in healthy soil. More information on the workshop can be found on this website.

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