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The paleosymbiosis hypothesis: host plants can be colonized by root symbionts that have been inactive for centuries to millenia

Pither, J. and Pickles, B. J. (2017) The paleosymbiosis hypothesis: host plants can be colonized by root symbionts that have been inactive for centuries to millenia. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 93 (6). fix061. ISSN 1574-6941

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/femsec/fix061

Abstract/Summary

Paleoecologists have speculated that post-glacial migration of tree species could have been facilitated by mycorrhizal symbionts surviving glaciation as resistant propagules belowground. The general premise of this idea, which we call the “paleosymbiosis hypothesis”, is that host plants can access and be colonized by fungal root symbionts that have been inactive for millennia. Here, we explore the plausibility of this hypothesis by synthesizing relevant findings from a diverse literature. For example, the paleoecology literature provided evidence of modern roots penetrating paleosols containing ancient (> 6000 yr) fungal propagules, though these were of unknown condition. With respect to propagule longevity, the available evidence is of mixed quality, but includes convincing examples consistent with the paleosymbiosis hypothesis (i.e. > 1000 yr viable propagules). We describe symbiont traits and environmental conditions that should favour the development and preservation of an ancient propagule bank, and discuss the implications for our understanding of soil symbiont diversity and ecosystem functioning. We conclude that the paleosymbiosis hypothesis is plausible in locations where propagule deposition and preservation conditions are favourable (e.g. permafrost regions). We encourage future below-ground research to consider and explore the potential temporal origins of root symbioses.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:70453
Uncontrolled Keywords:legacy effect, mycorrhizae, resistant propagules, resurrection ecology, sclerotia, spores
Publisher:Wiley
Publisher Statement:For the most up to date version of this article please see the FEMS Microbiology Ecology website.

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