Aphids can acquire the nitrogen delivered to plants by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Thomas David Joseph Wilkinson, Julia Ferrari, Susan E Hartley, Angela Hodge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Above- and below-ground organisms can interact by altering the quality of shared host plants. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) influence plant nutrient uptake, including nitrogen (N) acquisition. Under low N and phosphorus conditions, AMF delivery of N from organic sources not immediately available to the plant can have large impacts on plant N status, a limiting nutrient in the aphid diet. This study investigated the effect of AMF colonisation upon aphid number and determined the consequences of AMF directly accessing an organic nutrient patch that the plant cannot. We hypothesised that AMF colonisation of plants will increase plant and aphid N status, plant performance and aphid number, but only when the AMF had direct access to the added organic patch. Barley plants hosting the grain aphid Sitobion avenae were colonised by the AMF, Funneliformis mosseae, or no AMF. A two-compartment microcosm was used to separate the plant roots from a 15 N-labelled organic patch in a second compartment. AMF-colonised plants, but without access to the second compartment, were used to examine the effect of AMF colonisation on aphid number. In a separate treatment, and to determine whether AMF access to a plant inaccessible N source modified the effect of AMF colonisation on aphid number, AMF hyphae were permitted access to the second compartment containing an organic patch. As a control for AMF accessing a larger substrate volume, AMF were allowed access to a second compartment without an organic patch. When the AMF accessed the organic patch, more N from the patch was delivered to the plant resulting in a higher grain N concentration although plant growth was depressed. More N from the patch was also delivered to the aphids, but the N status of the aphid remained unchanged. Regardless of the level of access to the organic patch, AMF colonisation did not affect aphid number. Our data show that by accessing N sources not readily available to plants, AMF can indirectly deliver N to above-ground organisms, a finding which has major implications for N-transfer between higher trophic levels. A plain language summary is available for this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-586
Number of pages11
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date12 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • Funneliformis mosseae
  • Hordeum vulgare
  • N
  • Sitobion avenae
  • arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • multitrophic interactions
  • nutrient acquisition
  • stable isotopic labelling

Cite this