The infective capacities of the nitrogen fixing Actinomycete Frankia and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi from soils near watercourses, along a vegetation gradient, were studied using plant bioassays. Frankia and arbuscular mycorrhizas capable of infecting Discaria trinervis were found at seventeen sites sampled. More specific enumeration of the infective capacities of both microorganisms in relation to environmental factors was performed in seven representative soils of the analysed vegetation zones (rainforest, xeric forest and steppe) using the most probable number method. The highest nodulation capacities ranged from 340 infective units g–1 soil, in a steppe marsh devoid of actinorhizas, to 61 in a coastal actinorhizal scrub (in xeric forest). The highest number of infective mycorrhizal units – also found in marsh – was 145. In general, rainforest soils had the lowest values for both microorganisms. Infective units of Frankia and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in soil were positively correlated (r = 0.89, P < 0.05). Both soilborne symbionts showed the highest infective capacity in semi-arid conditions nearby watercourse and at the valley bottom location. Tripartite symbiosis was effective in plants inoculated with steppe and xeric forest soils and plants inoculated with Frankia BCU110501 and Glomus mosseae. Interaction between both symbionts and influence of environmental conditions, in general, would contribute to define comparable trends of their infective capacities. (© 2006 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim)