The response of grassland mycorrhizal fungal abundance to a range of long-term grazing intensities

Maede Faghihinia, Yi Zou*, Zheng Chen, Yongfei Bai, Wenhuai Li, Rob Marrs, Philip L. Staddon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Keystone root symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi play a major role in maintaining plant biodiversity, increasing plant productivity and enhancing storage of carbon in soil. AM fungi are ubiquitous and found in most ecosystems including grasslands currently experiencing increasing pressures form human activity. Grazing is known to impact AM fungi but very little is known about how AM fungi are affected by different levels of grazing intensity. Here we report on results from a long-term experimental site in a typical steppe in the north of China, containing seven levels of field-manipulated grazing intensities maintained for over 13 years. We assessed arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal abundance, represented by soil hyphal length density and mycorrhizal root colonization (mycorrhizal root frequency, intensity and arbuscule intensity) within the farm-scale field experiment. We also measured environmental variables to explain the responses of mycorrhizal fungi to grazing intensity. Our results showed that with an increase in grazing intensity, soil hyphal length density linearly decreased. There was, however, no significant trend for mycorrhizal root colonization variables in relation to grazing intensity. Mycorrhizal root frequency was negatively correlated with topographic-induced changes in soil nitrogen and phosphorus, while arbuscule intensity was marginally negatively correlated with soil available phosphorus. Further, we found a possible hump-shaped relationship between the ratio of external to internal AM fungal structures and grazing intensity. Our finding showed that external AM fungal structure was clearly impacted by grazing intensity but that this was not the case for internal mycorrhizal structures. This indicated that mycorrhizal functioning was impacted by the intensity of grazing as the mycorrhizal structures responded differently. Indeed the ratio of the foraging extra-radical mycorrhizal hyphae to intra-radical mycorrhizal structures was highest at moderate grazing intensity but strongly decreased by high grazing intensity. Our study suggests that the impacts of grazing intensity on the plant-AMF association could lead to further knock-on effects on the plant-soil system via the feedbacks that exist between plant and AMF communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100178
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • AMF
  • Grassland
  • Mixed-effects model
  • Overgrazing
  • Soil nutrients availability
  • Topography

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