Effects of mycorrhizal colonisation on Thymus polytrichus from heavy-metal-contaminated sites in northern England.

Research paper by L L Whitfield, A J AJ Richards, D L DL Rimmer

Indexed on: 18 Oct '03Published on: 18 Oct '03Published in: Mycorrhiza


A study was performed to establish whether colonisation with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi is beneficial to wild thyme [ Thymus polytrichus A. Kerner ex Borbás ssp. britannicus (Ronn.) Kerguelen (Lamiaceae)] growing in the heavy-metal-contaminated soils along the River South Tyne, United Kingdom. T. polytrichus plants of the same genotype were grown under controlled conditions with and without Zn contamination, and differences between AM-colonised and -uncolonised plants in mean shoot and root growth (dry weight) and Zn concentration were assessed. When grown in the heavy-metal-contaminated, low-P soil from one of the South Tyne sites, AM-colonised plants grew significantly larger than uncolonised plants; however, there was no significant difference in growth between AM and non-AM plants grown in an artificial substrate with a larger available P concentration, with or without Zn contamination. Mycorrhizal colonisation increased tissue Zn concentrations during the experiments. It is concluded that AM fungi are beneficial, if not essential, to T. polytrichus growing in the low-nutrient soils along the River South Tyne, because of their role in enhancing plant uptake of P (and possibly other nutrients). There was no evidence from this study that the fungi reduce plant uptake of heavy metals at these sites, but rather increase Zn uptake. However, the resulting tissue metal concentrations do not appear to be large enough to be detrimental to plant growth.