The effect of drought on mycorrhizas of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.): Changes in community structure, and the content of carbohydrates and nitrogen storage bodies of the fungi

Lanbo Shi, Martin Guttenberger, Ingrid Kottke, Rüdiger Hampp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


In a water-exclusion experiment, five different ecotypes of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.; representing regions of different environmental and climatic conditions in Baden-Württemberg, Germany) were subjected to drought conditions of different severity between July and September of two consecutive years. Drought stress as characterised by the water content and the pre-dawn water potential of the leaves was related to the degree of mycorrhization, the type of ectomycorrhiza, and the physiological properties of individual fungus/plant interactions at the fine roots of different beech ecotypes. Our data show that decreased soil water availability did not significantly change either the degree of fungal colonisation of beech roots (measured by the amount of ergosterol) or the number of ectomycorrhizal types per root system. Drought did, however, have an influence on the composition of the ectomycorrhizal community, and different mycorrhizal types responded to drought differently in terms of their patterns of occurrence/abundance. While the abundance of the dominant mycorrhizal types, formed with Byssocorticium atrovirens and Lactarius subdulcis, was not affected, drought increased the abundance of mycorrhiza formed between beech and Xerocomus chrysenteron. A detailed analysis of plant and fungal carbohydrates in mycorrhizas indicated that different drought intensities led to distinguishable responses. In plants exhibiting a pre-dawn water potential of down to -1.96 MPa, drought caused the accumulation of sucrose, glucose and fructose, and of fungus-specific compounds such as mannitol and arabitol in mycorrhizal roots at the expense of, e.g. trehalose. The accumulation of sugar alcohols, which constitute compatible solutes known to counteract drought stress, was species-specific. Mycorrhizas with X. chrysenteron formed large amounts of arabitol, while those with L. subdulcis accumulated mannitol. Sustained partitioning of carbon towards the mycorrhizal fungi under drought was also reflected by an increase of nitrogen storage in the fungal vacuoles. In treatments where the pre-dawn water potential reached values of as low as -2.4 MPa, such alterations were no longer found. In such plants, the starch and soluble sugars content was generally reduced, which also resulted in a lack of increase in protective, fungus-specific sugar alcohols. In summary, the data show that, within certain limits, an increase in drought causes a shift in plant/fungus communities. The shift in the pattern of fungus-specific compounds could possibly be used as a sensitive measure of physiological stress imposed on this symbiosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-311
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


  • Beech ecotypes
  • Drought resistance
  • Ectomycorrhiza diversity
  • Fungal carbohydrates
  • Nitrogen storage


Dive into the research topics of 'The effect of drought on mycorrhizas of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.): Changes in community structure, and the content of carbohydrates and nitrogen storage bodies of the fungi'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this