Molecular Ecology ( 2022)
The shifts in adaptive strategies revealed by ecological succession and the mechanisms that facilitate these shifts are fundamental to ecology. These adaptive strategies could be particularly important in communities of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) mutualistic with sorghum, where strong AMF succession replaces initially ruderal species with competitive ones and where the strongest plant response to drought is to manage these AMF. Although most studies of agriculturally important fungi focus on parasites, the mutualistic symbionts, AMF, constitute a research system of human-associated fungi whose relative simplicity and synchrony are conducive to experimental ecology. First, we hypothesize that, when irrigation is stopped to mimic drought, competitive AMF species should be replaced by AMF species tolerant to drought stress. We then, for the first time, correlate AMF abundance and host plant transcription to test two novel hypotheses about the mechanisms behind the shift from ruderal to competitive AMF. Surprisingly, despite imposing drought stress, we found no stress-tolerant AMF, probably due to our agricultural system having been irrigated for nearly six decades. Remarkably, we found strong and differential correlation between the successional shift from ruderal to competitive AMF and sorghum genes whose products (i) produce and release strigolactone signals, (ii) perceive mycorrhizal-lipochitinoligosaccharide (Myc-LCO) signals, (iii) provide plant lipid and sugar to AMF, and (iv) import minerals and water provided by AMF. These novel insights frame new hypotheses about AMF adaptive evolution and suggest a rationale for selecting AMF to reduce inputs and maximize yields in commercial agriculture.