Preiß, K; Adam, IKU; Gebauer, G: Irradiance governs exploitation of fungi: Fine-tuning of carbon gain by two partially myco-heterotrophic orchids, Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 277, 1333-1336 (2010), doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.1966
While all members of the Orchidaceae are fully dependent on mycorrhizal fungi during their achlorophyllous juvenile stages, mature plants may remain fully myco-heterotrophic, become fully autotrophic or develop a nutritional mode where the carbon gain through photosynthesis is complemented by organic carbon from fungal partners. This so-called partial myco-heterotrophy is intriguingly complex. Current knowledge indicates a large range in the proportion of fungus-derived carbon between and within partially myco-heterotrophic plant species. However, the driving factors for this variation are so far mostly unknown. Here we show for two green species of the orchid genus Cephalanthera that light availability is the major determinant of the degree of myco-heterotrophy. Using leaf stable isotope natural abundance analysis together with time-integrated micro-scale light climate monitoring we could demonstrate that there is a sensitive reaction to varying light availability within forests. Low light levels result in strong myco-heterotrophy while higher irradiances successively drive the orchids towards autotrophy. Our results demonstrate that partial myco-heterotrophy in these species is not a static nutritional mode but a flexible mechanism driven by light availability which allows a balanced utilisation of carbon resources available in nature.
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