What Are Mycorrhizae? - Definition, Function & Products

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  • 0:01 What are Mycorrhizae?
  • 0:49 How do Mycorrhizae Work?
  • 1:52 Mycorrhizal Fungi &…
  • 4:00 Ecological & Economic…
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jordana LaFantasie

Jordge teaches college Biology, Ecology and Environmental Science. She has a Doctorate degree in Agronomy.

This lesson explores common types of mycorrhizae and describes their function. Additionally, this lesson examines their ecological and economic importance.

What Are Mycorrhizae?

Mycorrhizae are a symbiosis, or close, long-term relationship between two or more species. In this case, the species are the roots of a host plant and a mycorrhizal fungus. The word mycorrhizal means 'fungus root' in Greek.

Approximately, 95% of vascular plants belong to genera that form mycorrhizal relationships, and it is likely that 80% of plant species associate with mycorrhizal fungi. Plant families that typically do not associate with mycorrhizal fungi are often weedy or early colonizers, and include Amaranthaceae, the pigweed family, and Brassicaceae, the mustard family.

How Do Mycorrhizae Work?

In most cases, the symbiotic relationship between host plants and the mycorrhizal fungus is mutualistic, or mutually beneficial. Mycorrhizal fungi come into direct contact with plant roots and with the soil, adding to the plants ability to gather nutrients and water from the soil through the fungus. In exchange, the plant feeds the fungus sugars it produces during photosynthesis. Thus, the relationship is beneficial to both. The plant receives more water and nutrients than it could on its own, and the fungus gets the food it needs for energy.

Sometimes, however, this relationship can change. Consider a situation in which a plant is fertilized and watered. It doesn't need assistance from a fungus to gather nutrients and water, so it is feeding the fungus for nothing. In this case, the relationship isn't mutualistic, only the fungus is benefiting, so the relationship could be considered mildly parasitic. Often, under these circumstances, a plant will reduce its associations with mycorrhizal fungi.

Mycorrhizal Fungi & Their Hosts

There are three major types of mycorrhizal fungi, each associating with different types of plants.

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