Selectivity and functional diversity in arbuscular mycorrhizas of co-occurring fungi and plants from a temperate deciduous woodland

T Helgason, J W Merryweather, J Denison, P Wilson, J P W Young, A H Fitter

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1 The arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi colonizing plants at a woodland site in North Yorkshire (UK) have been characterized from the roots of five plant species (Rubus fruticosus agg. L., Epilobium angustifolium L., Acer pseudoplatanus L., Ajuga reptans L. and Glechoma hederacea L.), and identified using small-subunit rRNA (SSUrRNA) gene amplification and sequencing.

2 Interactions between five plant species from the site and four co-occurring glomalean fungi were investigated in artificial one-to-one AM symbioses. Three of the fungi were isolated from the site; the fourth was a culture genetically similar to a taxon found at the site. Phosphorus uptake and growth responses were compared with non-mycorrhizal controls.

3 Individual fungi colonized each plant with different spatial distribution and intensity. Some did not colonize at all, indicating incompatibility under the conditions used in the experiments.

4 Glomus hoi consistently occupied a large proportion of root systems and outperformed the other fungi, improving P uptake and enhancing the growth of four out of the five plant species. Only G. hoi colonized and increased P uptake in Acer pseudoplatanus, the host plant with which it associates almost exclusively under field conditions. Colonization of all plant species by Scutellospora dipurpurescens was sparse, and beneficial to only one of the host plants (Teucrium scorodonia). Archaeospora trappei and Glomus sp. UY1225 had variable effects on the host plants, conferring a range of P uptake and growth benefits on Lysimachia nummularia and T. scorodonia, increasing P uptake whilst not affecting biomass in Ajuga reptans and Glechoma hederacea, and failing to form mycorrhizas with A. pseudoplatanus.

5 These experimental mycorrhizas show that root colonization, symbiont compatibility and plant performance vary with each fungus-plant combination, even when the plants and fungi naturally co-exist.

6 We provide evidence of physical and functional selectivity in AM. The small number of described AM fungal species (154) has been ascribed to their supposed lack of host specificity, but if the selectivity we have observed is the general rule, then we may predict that many more, probably hard-to-culture glomalean species await discovery, or that members of species as currently perceived may be physiologically or functionally distinct.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-384
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2002

Bibliographical note

© 2002 British Ecological Society. This is an electronic version of an article published in Journal of Ecology: complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of Journal of Ecology, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journal's website at or


  • Archaeospora
  • Glomus
  • phosphorus
  • plant growth
  • Scutellospora
  • sequence diversity

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