The Effect of Fungi On Photosynthesis: Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Enhances Photosynthesis Resulting In Increased Growth During Drought & High Temperature Conditions. This Article Explains More.
The Effect of Fungi On Photosynthesis is rarely discussed by gardeners. But for years researchers have known how fungi, though unable to photosynthesise themselves, aid a wide range of plants in photosynthesis. Research has been carried out internationally, much of it in Africa, India and China where food production research is critical to humans as droughts and high temperatures become more problematic. Not all researchers are local to these countries with some of the work I quote being Dutch.
Before moving on to specifics let’s start with photosynthesis.
What is Photosynthesis?
Simply defined photosynthesis is the process whereby plants capture sunlight via their leaves and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into simple sugar (carbohydrate) and oxygen.
Is Photosynthesis That Simple?
In a sense yes ….
But that is only stage one of the process. That simple sugar isn’t of much use on its own. The plant also needs more complex sugars, disaccharides and polysaccharides (e.g. glucose is a monosaccharide; disaccharides such as sucrose are formed from two simple sugars, whilst polysaccharides are more complex with additional carbon atoms).
That’s a good start but plants need more than just sugars if they are to grow and thrive. They need to produce proteins from amino acids, fats (lipids) from fatty acids and various primary and secondary metabolites.
And for this to happen the processes need enzymes. Enzymes increase the rate at which chemical reactions take place. Without them everything would take an age. They are the catalysts that make photosynthesis “efficient”.
But enzymes need minute amounts of trace elements,ents such iron, boron, copper, calcium, molybdenum, cobalt and zinc. Without these trace elements plants suffer. Eg a lack of mobile calcium can lead to blossom end rot in some fruit (note it’s a lock of mobile calcium NOT a lack of calcium).
Most soils have more than enough trace elements for plants. But there is a problem in that the plants can’t always access them. Fungi can facilitate that access. Fungal hyphae reach far beyond the plant root zone and can transport trace elements and other minerals to the plants. They do this in a symbiotic exchange for the sugars they cannot produce themselves (because they cannot photosynthesis). Fungi need plants to donate sugars. In return the fungi provide moisture, trace elements etc. More on this in another post!
What Does Science Say About Fungi & Photosynthesis?
As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of research on the interaction between fungi and plants, including the role associated with photosynthesis.
For example, in “Effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus on photosynthesis and water status of maize under high temperature stress“, Zhu, XC., Song, FB., Liu, SQ. et al. reported that “Arbuscular mycorrihizal symbiosis markedly enhanced the net photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance and transpiration rate in the maize leaves”.
And Birhane, E., Sterck, F.J., Fetene, M. et al. report that “Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi enhance photosynthesis, water use efficiency, and growth of frankincense seedlings under pulsed water availability conditions“. .
The above two papers are just two of many. Search online and there are many more. And they report similar findings over much of the globe and for a wide range of plant types and species.
But what of gardeners’ experience?
Fungal Associations Within Gardening Situations
They say correlation doesn’t imply causation. It’s true we can’t legitimately deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between two events or variables solely on the basis of our observations or a perception of correlation. Science doesn’t work like that. And if as gardeners we think all our observations “prove” anything we are deluding ourselves. We can have suppositions, hypotheses, guesses, but we can’t prove anything. So what I’m now going to say below is not science based and I can’t prove it. Bear that in mind.
I have an olive tree growing in a pot. It has a stem that is nearly half an inch in diameter and produces lots of shoots that I take cuttings from. These cuttings get planted out in the garden and have grown to several metres in height. They are more robust and have thicker stems than the parent plant.
My guess is that the parent plant is “stunted” because it doesn’t get optimum conditions. Being in a pot it possibly can’t access enough water or feed, though I water and feed it regularly. But it is also isolated from the fungal hyphae that permeate every gram of my garden soil. It doesn’t get its “feet” into the soil and benefit from the soil fungi.
This summer I’m going to release my captive pot grown olive tree and plant it in the soil. My bet is that once it associates with soil fungi it will thrive. But even if it does, it’s not a replicable trial and not real evidence. Thats why I rely on the sort of research in the papers cited above.
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