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Phosphorus (P) is essential for plant growth. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) aid its uptake by acquiring sources distant from roots in return for carbon. Little is known about how AMF colonise soil pore-space, and models of AMF-enhanced P-uptake are poorly validated. We used synchrotron X-ray computed tomography (SXRCT) to visualize mycorrhizas in soil, and synchrotron X-ray fluorescence (XRF/XANES) elemental mapping for phosphorus (P), sulphur (S) and aluminium (Al), in combination with modelling. We found that AMF inoculation had a suppressive effect on colonisation by other soil fungi and identified differences in structure and growth rate between hyphae of AMF and nonmycorrhizal fungi. Results showed that AMF co-locate with areas of high P and low Al, andpreferentially associate with organic-type P species in preference to Al-rich inorganic P. We discovered that AMF avoid Al-rich areas as a source of P. S-rich regions correlated with higher hyphal density and an increased organic-associated P-pool, whilst oxidized S-species were found close to AMF hyphae. Increased S oxidation close to AMF suggested the observed changes were microbiome-related. Our experimentally-validated model led to an estimate of P-uptake by AMF hyphae that is an order of magnitude lower than rates previously estimated; a result with significant implications for modelling of plant-soil-AMF interactions.

Original publication




Journal article


New Phytol

Publication Date



Mycorrhizas, X-ray Computed Tomography, X-ray fluorescence, plant phosphorus uptake, rhizosphere modelling, synchrotron