Main content area

Non‐random association patterns in a plant–mycorrhizal fungal network reveal host–symbiont specificity

Sepp, Siim‐Kaarel, Davison, John, Jairus, Teele, Vasar, Martti, Moora, Mari, Zobel, Martin, Öpik, Maarja
Molecular ecology 2019 v.28 no.2 pp. 365-378
autumn, chalk grasslands, community structure, data collection, forbs, grasses, host plants, models, mycorrhizal fungi, ribosomal DNA, sequence analysis, summer, symbionts, terrestrial ecosystems, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae
Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are obligate plant symbionts that have important functions in most terrestrial ecosystems, but there remains an incomplete understanding of host–fungus specificity and the relationships between species and functional groups of plants and AM fungi. Here, we aimed to provide a comprehensive description of plant–AM fungal interactions in a biodiverse semi‐natural grassland. We sampled all plant species in a 1,000‐m² homogeneous plot of dry calcareous grassland in two seasons (summer and autumn) and identified root‐colonizing AM fungi by SSU rDNA sequencing. In the network of 33 plant and 100 AM fungal species, we found a significant effect of both host plant species and host plant functional group on AM fungal richness and community composition. Comparison with network null models revealed a larger‐than‐random degree of partner selectivity among plants. Grasses harboured a larger number of AM fungal partners and were more generalist in partner selection, compared with forbs. More generalist partner association and lower specialization were apparent among obligately, compared with facultatively, mycorrhizal plant species and among locally more abundant plant species. This study provides the most complete data set of co‐occurring plant and AM fungal taxa to date, showing that at this particular site, the interaction network is assembled non‐randomly, with moderate selectivity in associations between plant species and functional groups and their fungal symbionts.