Symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi increase the P uptake of agronomic, horticultural, and forestry crops. Little is known about the real-time dynamics of carbon balance (net gain of biomass resulting from photosynthesis less the respiratory costs) of plants colonized with mycorrhizae. Our objective was to determine the carbon balance of endomycorrhizal (VAM) chile pepper `San Luis' (Capsicum annuum L.) as a model system for predicting plant response to limited P availability under elevated CO2. The increase in atmospheric CO2 is expected to result in increased plant productivity and greater demand for soil P, however, the lack of available soil P may become the most important nutritional problem limiting crop productivity. Under current conditions, the limitation of soil-P availability is an enormous problem that affects 25% of the world's arable lands. We are quantifying the carbon costs paid by the mycorrhizal plant under varying levels of P deficiency over the life cycle of the plant. Preliminary results from this study under ambient CO2 conditions indicate that there is a lower maintenance respiration and higher growth efficiency with mycorrhizal pepper plants under low soil-P conditions.
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