Plant and Soil

, Volume 320, Issue 1–2, pp 37–77 | Cite as

Mycorrhizal associations and other means of nutrition of vascular plants: understanding the global diversity of host plants by resolving conflicting information and developing reliable means of diagnosis

  • Mark C. BrundrettEmail author
Marschner Review


A comprehensive appraisal of the mycorrhizal literature provides data for 336 plant families representing 99% of flowering plants, with regard to mycorrhizas and other nutritional adaptations. In total, arbuscular (AM), orchid, ectomycorrhizas (EM) and ericoid mycorrhizas and nonmycorrhizal (NM) roots occur in 74%, 9%, 2%, 1% and 6% of Angiosperm species respectively. Many families of NM plants have alternative nutritional strategies such as parasitism, carnivory, or cluster roots. The remaining angiosperms (8%) belong to families reported to have both AM and NM species. These are designated as NM-AM families here and tend to occur in habitats considered non-conducive to mycorrhizal fungi, such as epiphytic, aquatic, extremely cold, dry, disturbed, or saline habitats. Estimated numbers of species in each category of mycorrhizas is presented with lists of NM and EM families. Evolutionary trends are also summarised by providing data on all clades and orders of flowering and non-flowering vascular plants on a global scale. A case study of Western Australian plants revealed that plants with specialised nutritional modes such as carnivory, cluster roots, or EM were much more diverse in this ancient landscape with infertile soils than elsewhere. Detailed information on the mycorrhizal diversity of plants presented here is linked to a website ( to allow data to remain current. Over a century of research effort has resulted in data on mycorrhizal associations of >10,000 plant species that are of great value, but also somewhat of a liability due to conflicting information about some families and genera. It is likely that these conflicts result in part from misdiagnosis of mycorrhizal associations resulting from a lack of standardisation in criteria used to define them. Families that contain both NM and AM species provide a second major source of inconsistency, but even when these are excluded there is a ∼10% apparent error rate in published lists of mycorrhizal plants. Arbuscules are linked to AM misdiagnosis since they are used less often than vesicles to recognise AM associations in roots and apparently occur sporadically in NM plants. Key issues with the diagnosis of mycorrhizal plants are discussed using the Cyperaceae as a case study. Detailed protocols designed to consistently distinguish AM from endophytic Glomeromycotan Fungus Colonisation (GFC) are provided. This review aims to stimulate debate and provide advice to researchers delving into root biology.


Arbuscular mycorrhiza Ectomycorrhiza Roots Plant diversity and evolution Glomeromycotan fungus colonisation Symbiotic diagnosis 



arbuscular mycorrhizas (vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizas VAM)


nonmycorrhizal plants


ectomycorrhizas (ECM)


plants with variable AM or NM roots


endophytic or unspecified colonisation by Glomeromycotan Fungi


root length colonised



I would especially like to thank my wife Karen Clarke for her endless patience while this review was compiled. This review would not have been possible without the support of Lotterywest and the School of Plant Biology at The University of Western Australia. I am also very grateful to Hans Lambers for suggesting this data be made available and providing detailed comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Plant Biology (M090), Faculty of Natural and Agricultural SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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