Fern-associated arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are represented by multiple Glomus spp.: do environmental factors influence partner identity?
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Symbioses involving arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are among the most important ecological associations for many plant species. The diversity of AMF associated with ferns, however, remains poorly studied. Using recently designed Glomus-specific primers, we surveyed the AMF community associated with ferns from deciduous, broad-leaved second-growth forest habitats at the eastern edge of the piedmont region of central Virginia, USA. Results indicate that this molecular approach may be a useful tool for detecting AMF in ferns compared to traditional techniques based on morphology. Over 30 potential fungal ribotypes were identified from eight fern species using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Fungal ribotypes were found to differ widely in terms of (1) the number of fern partners with which they interact and (2) their relative frequency within each fern. Sequence analysis of fungal isolates from three species of fern indicated that the primers were generally highly specific for Glomus species but some non-target DNA was also amplified. Cloned polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products from Polystichum acrostichoides and Osmunda regalis revealed several phylogenetically distinct Glomus species. A single Glomus species was identified in the cloned PCR products from Botrychium virginianum. These findings challenge the hypothesis that the extent or degree of fern–fungal symbiosis is somehow tied to root complexity. Environmental factors appear to influence the suite of AMF that form partnerships with ferns. Some species of fern from similar habitats associated with dissimilar fungal partners (e.g., P. acrostichoides and Athyrium filix-femina var. asplenioides), whereas others harbored uniform fungal communities (e.g., Asplenium platyneuron). The significance of these data in terms of ecological and evolutionary dynamics of the AMF–fern symbiosis is discussed.
KeywordsSymbiosis Ferns Glomus Community structure
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