, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 55-62

Relationships between soil heavy metal concentration and mycorrhizal colonisation in Thymus polytrichus in northern England

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Abstract

A study was conducted to establish whether the wild thyme [Thymus polytrichus A. Kerner ex Borbás ssp. britannicus (Ronn.) Kerguelen (Lamiaceae)] growing in the metal-contaminated soils along the River South Tyne, United Kingdom, is colonised by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, and whether the degree of colonisation increases (perhaps suggesting increasing mycorrhizal dependence) or decreases (indicating possible inhibition of AM growth) with increasing degree of soil contamination. Seasonal changes in AM colonisation were also assessed. The AM fungal communities colonising T. polytrichus were also investigated, using the polymerase chain reaction with restriction fragment length polymorphism and sequencing of fungal DNA to establish whether AM species richness varied between sites, and whether fungal ecotypes specific to sites with different amounts of metal contamination could be identified. All plants examined were heavily colonised by AM fungi, and mean percentage root length colonised did not increase significantly with increasing soil metal contamination. However, AM vesicle abundance (percentage of mycorrhizal root length containing vesicles) at the most contaminated site was significantly greater than at the other sites. No significant seasonal variation in degree of colonisation or vesicle abundance was found. Glomus was the predominant AM genus detected at all sites. The number of AM genotypes colonising T. polytrichus roots was similar at all sites but, although some were common to all sites, certain strains appeared to be specific to either the most- or the least-contaminated site. This variation in species may account for the difference in vesicle abundance between sites. The consistently heavy AM colonisation of T. polytrichus found suggests that these fungi are not inhibited by soil heavy metals at these sites, and that the host derives some benefit from its AM symbiont.