Alicia Argüello García

Table of contents

Research Interests

Plant-decision making; plant-AMF-rhizobia symbioses; plant and soil ecology; organic farming; conservation and restoration; biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; global change.

Since I was a kid I have been fascinated by what happens beyond what our eyes can detect at first sight. During my bachelor and master’s degrees I discovered how complex and fantastic ecology is, especially regarding to the multiple co-occurring interactions among biotic and abiotic components of the environment. During my Ph.D. I have been investigating whether plants can distinguish the most favourable biotic and/or abiotic conditions and respond to them accordingly. In contrast to animals, plants have no central nervous system with which to integrate decision-making when foraging for resources. Nevertheless, intuitively, integration of information must be important for plants. This is particularly evident in the case of symbioses such as the mycorrhizal symbiosis, where the plant invests its own photosynthesized carbon into a fungal partner to access to mineral nutrients foraged for by the fungus. If part A of a plant root system has a connection with an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF) that takes more resources than it returns and part B has an AMF connection that takes less than it returns, the plant should favor part B over part A to maximize its fitness. However, can a plant indeed select between the two AMF connections and display an "intelligent" integrated response? How would this response be affected by plant species identity or nutrient availability? To answer this question we constructed various experimental units with split root systems of which one side has more beneficial conditions than the other side. This is done in two ways: (i) the two sides contain two AMF species differing in their ability to supply mineral resources to the plant, (ii) the two sides contain the same AMF species, but differed in nutrient supply. The plant response is assessed via mycorrhizal infection, growth analyses and tissue concentrations of nutrients, including 33P and 14C. The allocation of carbon to the AMF was also assessed by mycorrhizal abundance (infection, hyphal length) and isotopic analysis using 14C.The results of our research can contribute to the fundamental question of "decision-making" in plants and to the applied question of how interactions between plants and AMF affect plant performance in the wild and in agro-ecosystems.


Education and Professional Positions

2009 - 2013 Ph.D. student in the project: Decision-making in plants: resource allocation to mycorrhizal hyphal networks. (Supervisors: Prof. Bernhard Schmid, PD Pascal Niklaus, Dr. Marcel van der Heijden and Prof. Andres Wiemken). University of Zurich, Switzerland
2006 - 2009 M.Sc. in Ecology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Major Thesis: Mycorrhizal effects on different plant species and growth forms from dune grasslands. Supervisor: Dr. Marcel van der Heijden.
Minor Thesis: Cantabrian Capercaillie: A coniferous specialist in a deciduous forest. Supervisor: Dr. Peter van Bodegom.
Literature study: Decision-making in plants and AMF. Can plants really choose the most beneficial partner? Supervisor: Dr. Marcel van der Heijden
2002 - 2007 B.Sc. in Environmental Sciences with specialization in Environmental Technology, Universidad de León, Spain