Research ArticlePLANT SCIENCES

The fungal collaboration gradient dominates the root economics space in plants

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Science Advances  01 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 27, eaba3756
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba3756

Abstract

Plant economics run on carbon and nutrients instead of money. Leaf strategies aboveground span an economic spectrum from “live fast and die young” to “slow and steady,” but the economy defined by root strategies belowground remains unclear. Here, we take a holistic view of the belowground economy and show that root-mycorrhizal collaboration can short circuit a one-dimensional economic spectrum, providing an entire space of economic possibilities. Root trait data from 1810 species across the globe confirm a classical fast-slow “conservation” gradient but show that most variation is explained by an orthogonal “collaboration” gradient, ranging from “do-it-yourself” resource uptake to “outsourcing” of resource uptake to mycorrhizal fungi. This broadened “root economics space” provides a solid foundation for predictive understanding of belowground responses to changing environmental conditions.

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