The functioning of ectomycorrhizal fungi in the field: linkages in space and time
Individual trees, either of the same or different species, can be linked spatially and temporally by the hyphae of ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi that allow carbon and nutrients to pass among them and promote forest establishment following disturbance. Spatial and temporal linkages between plants influence the function of ECM fungi in the field. Studies indicate that ECM linkages can reduce plant competition for resources, promote forest recovery, and influence the pattern of plant succession. The degree of influence depends on many factors, including the composition and arrangement of the vegetative community and soil and climatic conditions. Management practices that create intense disturbance and loss of organic matter or promote the introduction of non-ectomycorrhizal host species can decrease the ability of plants to form linkages with ECM fungi. Management practices that retain living trees and shrubs and input of organic matter provide the energy source and substrate necessary for ECM linkages. More research is needed to determine the degree to which ECM fungal linkages occur in the field and their role in ecosystem function and long-term health.