Topographic position modulates the mycorrhizal response of oak trees to interannual rainfall variability

José I. Querejeta, Louise M. Egerton-Warburton, Michael F. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


California coast live oak (Querem agrifolia) forms tripartite symbiotic associations with arbuscular (AMF) and ectomycorrhizal (EMF) fungi. We selected oak individuals differing in topographic position and depth to groundwater (mesic valley vs. xeric hill sites) to investigate changes of tree mycorrhizal status in response to interannual rainfall variability. EMF root colonization, as well as hyphal abundance and viability in upper rhizosphere soil (0-30 cm), were negatively affected by severe multi-year drought, although not to the same extent in each topographic location. Oak trees growing in hill sites showed EMF colonization levels <1% in upper roots during drought. By contrast, oaks in valley sites maintained much higher EMF colonization (>19%) in upper roots during drought. EMF root colonization increased sharply at both topographic positions during the ensuing wet year (78% in valley, 49% in hill), which indicates that the mycorrhizal status of roots in upper rhizosphere soil is highly responsive to interannual rainfall variability. Across sites and years, percentage EMF colonization and soil hyphal density and viability were strongly positively correlated with soil moisture potential, but percentage AMF root colonization was not. Interestingly, changes in percentage EMF root colonization and density of viable hyphae between a wet and a dry year were proportionally much greater in xeric hill sites than in mesic valley sites. The mycorrhizal status of oak trees was particularly responsive to changes in soil moisture at the hill sites, where roots in upper rhizosphere soil shifted from almost exclusively AMF during severe drought to predominantly EMF during the ensuing wet year. By contrast, the mycorrhizal status of oaks in the valley sites was less strongly coupled to current meteorological conditions, as roots in upper soil layers remained predominantly EMF during both a dry and a wet year. Canopy shading and hydraulic lift by oaks in valley sites likely contributed to maintain the integrity and viability of EMF roots and extraradical hyphae in upper rhizosphere soil during extended drought. Our results suggest that oak woodlands in water-limited ecosystems may become increasingly reliant on the AMF symbiosis under future climate change scenarios for the U.S. southwest and other world regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-662
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • AMF
  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Coast live oak
  • Drought
  • EMF
  • Ectomycorrhizal fungi
  • Hhydraulic lift
  • Quercus agrifolia
  • Rhizosphere

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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