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The economics of mutualisms: optimal utiliztion of mycorrhizal mutualistic partners by plants


  • Salant, Stephen W.


Abstract. Can choice of mutualistic partners and the degree of their utilization determine (1) mutualistic partner coexistence, (2) relative abundance of mutualistic partners, and (3) environment-dependent changes in relative abundance? We investigate these questions in the context of the plant–mycorrhizal fungal mutualism by building a biological market model potentially applicable to other mutualisms as well. We examine the situation where a single plant selectively utilizes member(s) of a group of ectomycorrhizal potential trading partners. Under biologically realistic circumstances, the plant may simultaneously utilize multiple partners, its degree of utilization determining the community structure of the fungi. If utilization of multiple partners is optimal, the marginal cost of acquiring additional nitrogen from every trading partner must be equal while the marginal cost of acquiring it from any unutilized partner must be larger. Because the plant’s nitrogen demand is light dependent, the composition of the fungal species among its trading partners changes along light-availability gradients. We discuss the design of an experiment to test the key prediction of our model, the equalization of marginal cost.

Suggested Citation

  • Salant, Stephen W., 2006. "The economics of mutualisms: optimal utiliztion of mycorrhizal mutualistic partners by plants," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt14b5d950, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt14b5d950

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    Cited by:

    1. Fruteau, C., 2010. "Biological markets in the everyday lives of mangabeys and vervets : An observational and experimental study," Other publications TiSEM 3f4fc3e2-723d-4455-9ed2-8, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    2. Cowden, Charles C. & Peterson, Chris J., 2009. "A multi-mutualist simulation: Applying biological market models to diverse mycorrhizal communities," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 220(12), pages 1522-1533.

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