A series of field and laboratory experiments were conducted to examine whether natural levels of insect herbivory affect the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) colonization of two plant species. The plant species were the highly mycorrhizal (mycotrophic) Plantago lanceolata, which suffers small amounts of insect damage continuously over a growing season and the weakly mycorrhizal (non-mycotrophic) Senecio jacobaea, which is frequently subject to rapid and total defoliation by moth larvae. Herbivory was found to reduce AM colonization in P. lanceolata, but had no effect in S. jacobaea. Similarly, AM colonization reduced the level of leaf damage in R lanceolata, but had no such effect in S. jacobaea. AM fungi were found to increase growth of R lanceolata, but this effect was only clearly seen when insects were absent. AM fungi reduced the growth of S. jacobaea irrespective of whether insects were present. It is concluded that the reduction of AM fungal colonization by herbivory in P. lanceolata is due to the reduced amount of photosynthate available to the symbiont. This may only become apparent at threshold levels of insect damage and, below these, increased photosynthesis elicited by the mycorrhiza is able to compensate for foliage loss to the insects. However, in S. jacobaea, the mycorrhiza appears to be an aggressive parasite and insect attack only exacerbates the reduction in biomass. In mycotrophic plants, insect herbivores may be responsible for poor functioning of the symbiosis in field conditions and there is a symmetrical interaction between insects and fungi. However, in non-mycotrophic plants, the interaction is strongly asymmetrical, being entirely in favour of the mycorrhiza.
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