What are mycorrhizal traits?

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  • Applying trait-based approaches to ecological research on mycorrhizal symbioses broadens ecological inferences, but there is no single unified framework to unite disparate language, terminology, and methods across the many multidisciplinary scientists studying mycorrhizas.
  • We propose an inclusive framework for trait-based mycorrhizal ecology aimed to stimulate scientists around the world to collect and use more mycorrhizal trait data, particularly in understudied areas. This would widen our understanding regarding the ecological role of mycorrhizal symbioses at individual, species, community, and ecosystem scales.
  • Analyzing how mycorrhizal symbioses fit within existing trait definitions highlights significant theoretical and empirical knowledge gaps, novel questions, and new research directions to improve our understanding of trait-based mycorrhizal ecology.
Traits are inherent properties of organisms, but how are they defined for organismal networks such as mycorrhizal symbioses? Mycorrhizal symbioses are complex and diverse belowground symbioses between plants and fungi that have proved challenging to fit into a unified and coherent trait framework. We propose an inclusive mycorrhizal trait framework that classifies traits as morphological, physiological, and phenological features that have functional implications for the symbiosis. We further classify mycorrhizal traits by location – plant, fungus, or the symbiosis – which highlights new questions in trait-based mycorrhizal ecology designed to charge and challenge the scientific community. This new framework is an opportunity for researchers to interrogate their data to identify novel insights and gaps in our understanding of mycorrhizal symbioses.


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Trends in ecology & evolution