Relocation of Nutrients from Dying Leaves Differs with Root Fungus Association

Foliar nutrient resorption differs between arbuscular mycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal trees at local and global scales.

The Science

The ability of plants to resorb nutrients from leaves before they die off, either stress induced or as part of developmental aging, is a large component of nutrient cycling in the terrestrial ecosystem. Researchers found that the amount of nutrients resorbed from leaf death during developmental aging differs between plants based on the type of fungus (i.e., mycorrhizae) that grows on their roots.

The Impact

Understanding the plant nutrient cycle is a key component for predicting adaptation of the terrestrial ecosystem to climate change. This and many other studies found that mycorrhizal association has a large impact on nutrient cycling, and is also detectable from satellite images and should thus be included in modern land surface models.


Trees typically associate with one of two main root fungi at a time: ectomycorrhizal (ECM) or arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The results of this study suggest that trees with different mycorrhizal associations show different nutrient resorption patterns across global, biome, and local scales. For example, trees have a higher resorption rate in nutrient starved boreal regions but lower resorption in tropical areas probably due to rapid litter decay being a more efficient source of nutrients. These results illustrate the complex and multifaceted nature of the nutrient cycle, and demonstrates that mycorrhizal association plays a large role in determining plant nutrient uptake and resorption strategies.

Principal Investigator

Joshua B. Fisher

Program Manager

Daniel Stover
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science


DOE BER Environmental System Science (formerly Terrestrial Ecosystem Science) program and the NSF Ecosystem Science program.


Zhang, H.-Y., et al. "Foliar Nutrient Resorption Differs between Arbuscular Mycorrhizal and Ectomycorrhizal Trees at Local and Global Scales." Global Ecology and Biogeography 27 (7), 875–885  (2018).