Direct and interactive effects of light and nutrients on the legume-rhizobia mutualism

Jennifer A. Lau, Evan James Bowling, Lowell E. Gentry, Paul A. Glasser, Elizabeth A. Monarch, Whitney M. Olesen, Jillian Waxmonsky, Ryan Thomas Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relative abundance of traded resources can alter the outcomes of symbioses, potentially shifting mutually-beneficial interactions into interactions that are detrimental to one or both partners. We manipulated the legume-rhizobia symbiosis and light and nutrient levels to investigate how the net growth benefits to both partners shift across environments differing in the availability of both traded resources. In low nutrient, high light environments, rhizobia increased mean plant biomass by 62%. In contrast, when plants were light-limited, rhizobia did not increase above-ground biomass and reduced mean below-ground biomass by 46%. Similarly, rhizobia only increased plant biomass under low nutrient conditions. Resource availability also affected nodule traits correlated with rhizobia fitness, with light-limited plants producing fewer and smaller nodules. Our results suggest that the growth benefits to both partners in the legume-rhizobia symbiosis depend on the availability of both traded resources. We also detected evidence, however, that plants may reduce investment in symbionts as the net benefits of association decrease, potentially limiting how far this interaction shifts toward parasitism in low-light, high nutrient environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-86
Number of pages7
JournalActa Oecologica
StatePublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Benefit
  • Context-dependence
  • Cost
  • Mutualism
  • Nitrogen
  • Parasitism
  • Resource availability
  • Species interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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