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Soil is essential for the maintenance of biodiversity above and below ground. The wealth of biodiversity below ground is vast and unappreciated: millions of microorganism s live and reproduce in a few grams of topsoil, an ecosystem essential for life on earth…’
Living organisms both plants and animals, constitute an important component of soil. The soil is now believed to be a dynamic or rather a living system, containing a dynamic population of organisms/microorganisms. Cultivated soil has relatively more population of microorganisms than the fallow land, and the soils rich in organic matter contain much more population than sandy and eroded soils.
Microbes in the soil are important in maintaining soil fertility / productivity, cycling of nutrient elements in the biosphere and sources of industrial products such as enzymes, antibiotics, vitamins, hormones, organic acids etc. At the same time certain soil microbes are the causal agents of human and plant diseases.Soil microbes play a crucial role in returning nutrients to their mineral forms, which plants can take up again. This process is known as mineralization.. Some soil microbes secrete polysaccharides, gums and glycoproteins, which glue soil minerals together, forming the basis for soil structure. Fungal hyphae and plant roots further bind soil aggregates together. Soil structure is essential to good plant growth.
Soil microbes play both beneficial (decomposition and nutrient cycling) and detrimental roles as pathogens and contributors to soil environmental problems such as global warming and groundwater contamination. The physical, chemical, and biological soil properties and their interactions with the resident community of soil microorganisms have a profound impact on growth and activity of microorganisms. As our understanding of these complex relationships develops, we should be able to develop soil management practices that are sustainable and that lead to maintenance and improvement of soil quality.


Plants associate with other life forms (animals, bacteria or fungi) to complete their life cycle, to fight against pathogens or to thrive in adverse environments. The plant root and its associated living organisms are together called ‘rhizosphere’, the region of mycorrhizal association. Mycorrhiza is one of the best examples of symbiotic1 association between plants and fungi. The term ‘mycorrhiza’ comes from Greek – mycos meaning fungus and rhiza meaning roots. In nature, more than eighty percent of angiosperms, and almost all gymnosperms are known to have mycorrhizal associations.
Mycorrhizae form a network of filaments that associate with plant roots and draw nutrients from the soil that the root system would not be able to access otherwise. This fungus-plant alliance stimulates plant growth and accelerates root development. In return the plant provides carbohydrates and other nutrients to the fungi. They utilize these carbohydrates for their growth and to synthesize and excrete molecules like glomalin (glycoprotein). The release of glomalin in the soil environment results in better soil structure and higher organic matter content.
Mycorrhizal fungi allow plants to draw more nutrients and water from the soil. They also increase plant tolerance to different environmental stresses. Moreover, these fungi play a major role in soil aggregation process and stimulate microbial activity. According to the plant species and to the growing practices and conditions, mycorrhizae provide different benefits to the plants and to the environment:
  • Produce more vigorous and healthy plants
  • Increase plant establishment and survival at seeding or transplanting
  • Increase yields and crop quality
  • Improve drought tolerance, allowing watering reduction
  • Enhance flowering and fruiting
  • Optimize fertilizers use, especially phosphorus
  • Increase tolerance to soil salinity
  • Reduce disease occurrence
  • Contribute to maintain soil quality and nutrient cycling
  • Contribute to control soil erosion

Types of mycorrhizae

There are two major groups of mycorrhizal fungi: ectomycorrhizal and endomycorrhizal fungi. Members of the former group develop exclusively on the exterior of root cells, whereas those of the latter penetrate the plant cells where direct metabolic exchanges can occur. Ectomycorrhizae are essentially found on trees and form visible structures whereas endomycorrhizal fungi colonize trees as well as shrubs and most herbaceous plants and do not form visible structures.


Among the types of endomycorrhizal fungi, arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are the most prevalent in soils. Their name is derived from structures they form within the plant root cell: arbuscules.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi are also found in natural environments, mainly in forests ecosystems. These fungi can form visible reproductive structures (mushrooms) at the feet of trees they colonize.


Arbuscules are finely-branched structures that form within a cell and serve as a major metabolic exchange site between the plant and the fungus. Vesicles are also found in some species of AM fungi, they are sac-like structures, emerging from hyphae, which serve as storage organs for lipids.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi grow between root cells without penetrating them. Their hyphae grow externally, forming dense growth known as a fungal mantle. These fungi form symbiotic relationships with most pines, spruces and some hardwood trees including beech, birch, oak and willow.5 to 7% of plants
Scientific representation of Endomycorrhizae

Mycorrhizal effects on soil structure

Soil structure refers to soil particle aggregation as well as pore spaces. Maintenance of soil structure is of critical importance to the preservation of soil functions and fertility. Mycorrhizal fungi play a major role in soil aggregation through hyphae networking and glomalin (biological glue) production. Therefore, their presence in the soil is essential to maintain physical soil properties. Better soil structure results in:
  • Greater water infiltration and water holding capacity More permeability to air
  • Better root development
  • Higher microbial activity and nutrient cycling Better resistance to surface sealing (crusts) Better resistance to erosion (water/wind)
  • Better resistance to compaction
Showing how roots are mixed well with the soil
In Conventional agriculture with agrochemicals, the use of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and excessive tillage causes soil conditions to be profoundly altered and the favourable conditions for the development of the symbiosis fungus – root is either very weak or none.
In organic farming, since synthetic products are not used, the soil conditions to mycorrhiza are more favorable. The easiest and most effective way to apply mycorrhiza is during sowing: To the substrate we use in the seedbed we will add the bacteria, so that from the moment the roots emerge from the seeds, they come into contact with fungi and establish the symbiosis quickly.
close view of roots under the soil
Close view of plant root under the soil