Plant performance response to eight different types of symbiosis

Anais Gibert*, Wade Tozer, Mark Westoby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


Almost all plant species interact with one or more symbioses somewhere within their distribution range. Bringing together plant trait data and growth responses to symbioses spanning 552 plant species, we provide for the first time on a large scale (597 studies) a quantitative synthesis on plant performance differences between eight major types of symbiosis, including mycorrhizas, N-fixing bacteria, fungal endophytes and ant–plant interactions. Frequency distributions of plant growth responses varied considerably between different types of symbiosis, in terms of both mean effect and ‘risk’, defined here as percentage of experiments reporting a negative effect of symbiosis on plants. Contrary to expectation, plant traits were poor predictors of growth response across and within all eight symbiotic associations. Our analysis showed no systematic additive effect when a host plant engaged in two functionally different symbioses. This synthesis suggests that plant species’ ecological strategies have little effect in determining the influence of a symbiosis on host plant growth. Reliable quantification of differences in plant performance across symbioses will prove valuable for developing general hypotheses on how species become engaged in mutualisms without a guarantee of net returns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)526-542
Number of pages17
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • ant–plant interactions
  • dark septate endophytes
  • functional traits
  • leaf endophytes
  • mycorrhizas
  • nitrogen-fixing bacteria
  • plant ecological strategy
  • plant growth

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