Exploring the transfer of recent plant photosynthates to soil microbes: mycorrhizal pathway vs direct root exudation

New Phytol. 2015 Mar;205(4):1537-1551. doi: 10.1111/nph.13138. Epub 2014 Nov 10.


Plants rapidly release photoassimilated carbon (C) to the soil via direct root exudation and associated mycorrhizal fungi, with both pathways promoting plant nutrient availability. This study aimed to explore these pathways from the root's vascular bundle to soil microbial communities. Using nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) imaging and (13) C-phospho- and neutral lipid fatty acids, we traced in-situ flows of recently photoassimilated C of (13) CO2 -exposed wheat (Triticum aestivum) through arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) into root- and hyphae-associated soil microbial communities. Intraradical hyphae of AM fungi were significantly (13) C-enriched compared to other root-cortex areas after 8 h of labelling. Immature fine root areas close to the root tip, where AM features were absent, showed signs of passive C loss and co-location of photoassimilates with nitrogen taken up from the soil solution. A significant and exclusively fresh proportion of (13) C-photosynthates was delivered through the AM pathway and was utilised by different microbial groups compared to C directly released by roots. Our results indicate that a major release of recent photosynthates into soil leave plant roots via AM intraradical hyphae already upstream of passive root exudations. AM fungi may act as a rapid hub for translocating fresh plant C to soil microbes.

Keywords: NanoSIMS; arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi; belowground carbon allocation; hyphosphere; mycorrhizosphere; priming effect; recent photosynthates; root exudates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Hyphae / physiology
  • Hyphae / radiation effects
  • Light
  • Mycorrhizae / growth & development
  • Mycorrhizae / physiology*
  • Mycorrhizae / radiation effects
  • Nanotechnology
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Phospholipids / analysis
  • Photosynthesis* / radiation effects
  • Plant Exudates / metabolism*
  • Plant Roots / cytology
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Secondary Ion
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Triticum / microbiology


  • Biomarkers
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Fatty Acids
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Phospholipids
  • Plant Exudates
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen