Data from: Plants and mycorrhizal symbionts acquire substantial soil nitrogen from gaseous ammonia transport

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  1. Nitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient that limits plant growth in many ecosystems. Here we investigate an overlooked component of the terrestrial N cycle—subsurface ammonia (NH3) gas transport and its contribution to plant and mycorrhizal N acquisition.
  2. We used controlled mesocosms, soil incubations, stable isotopes, and imaging to investigate edaphic drivers of NH3 gas efflux, track lateral subsurface N transport originating from 15NH3 gas or 15N-enriched organic matter, and assess plant and mycorrhizal N assimilation from this gaseous transport pathway.
  3. NH3 is released from soil organic matter, travels below ground, and contributes to root and fungal N content. Abiotic soil properties (pH and texture) influence the quantity of NH3 available for subsurface transport. Mutualisms with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi can substantially increase plant NH3-N uptake. The grass Brachypodium distachyon acquired 6-9% of total plant N from organic matter-N that traveled as a gas below ground. Colonization by the AM fungus Rhizophagus irregularis was associated with a twofold increase in total plant N acquisition from subsurface NH3 gas.
  4. NH3 gas transport and uptake pathways may be fundamentally different from those of more commonly studied soil N species and warrant further research.

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Please cite as: Hestrin, Rachel, Weber, Peter K., Pett-Ridge, Jennifer, and Lehmann, Johannes. (2021) Plants and mycorrhizal symbionts acquire substantial soil nitrogen from gaseous ammonia transport. New Phytologist. [Dataset] Cornell University Library eCommons Repository.


This work was supported in part by the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. RH acknowledges support from the NSF IGERT Program (DGE-0903371 and DGE-1069193), NSF-BREAD (grant number IOS-0965336), and the NSF GRFP (DGE-1144153). This research was also supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Genomic Science Program LLNL Bioenergy Scientific Focus Area SCW1039. Work at LLNL was conducted under the auspices of DOE Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344. Special thanks to Akio Enders for help with experimental design, Kelly Hanley for help with sample collection, Kim Sparks and Cornell Stable Isotope Facility staff for help with IRMS analysis, Christina Ramon for help with NanoSIMS sample preparation, and Maria Harrison for providing the plant and fungal germplasm.

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Ammonia; arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi; nitrogen; plant; soil


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Hestrin, R., Weber, P.K., Pett-Ridge, J. and Lehmann, J. (2021), Plants and mycorrhizal symbionts acquire substantial soil nitrogen from gaseous ammonia transport. New Phytologist. Accepted Author Manuscript.

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