Plant Kin Recognition Enhances Abundance of Symbiotic Microbial Partner
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BACKGROUND: The stability of cooperative interactions among different species can be compromised by cheating. In the plant-mycorrhizal fungi symbiosis, a single mycorrhizal network may interact with many plants, providing the opportunity for individual plants to cheat by obtaining nutrients from the fungi without donating carbon. Here we determine whether kin selection may favour plant investment in the mycorrhizal network, reducing the incentive to cheat when relatives interact with a single network. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We show that mycorrhizal network size and root colonization were greater when Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. was grown with siblings compared to strangers. Soil fungal abundance was positively correlated with group leaf nitrogen, and increased root colonization was associated with a reduced number of pathogen-induced root lesions, indicating greater benefit to plants grown with siblings. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Plants can benefit their relatives through investment in mycorrhizal fungi, and kin selection in plants could promote the persistence of the mycorrhizal symbiosis.
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