, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 81-97
Date: 11 Nov 2011

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in national parks, nature reserves and protected areas worldwide: a strategic perspective for their in situ conservation

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Soil fungi play a crucial role in producing fundamental ecosystem services such as soil fertility, formation and maintenance, nutrient cycling and plant community dynamics. However, they have received little attention in the field of conservation biology. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are beneficial soil symbionts fulfilling a key function in the complex networks of belowground/aboveground biotic interactions as they live in association with the roots of most (80%) land plant families and influence not only soil fertility but also plant nutrition, diversity and productivity. The diversity of AMF communities can decline due to habitat loss and anthropogenic disturbance, especially in agro-ecosystems, and many valuable ecotypes could become extinct before they are even discovered. Consequently, long-term strategies are urgently needed to ensure their conservation in habitats where they naturally occur and have evolved. Protected areas, where living organisms are under the care of national and international authorities, represent an appropriate place for the in situ conservation of AMF, providing them with adapted situations together with established complex networks of interactions with different components within each specific ecosystem. Here, we review data available about the main present-day threats to AMF and the current state of knowledge about their occurrence in protected sites worldwide, providing a checklist of national parks and nature reserves where they have been reported. The aim was to offer a strategic perspective to increase awareness of the importance of conserving these beneficial plant symbionts and of preserving their biodiversity in the years to come.