The molecular revolution in ectomycorrhizal ecology: peeking into the black-box


Thomas R. Horton. Present address: 350 Illick Hall, SUNY-ESF, Syracuse, NY, 13210, USA. Fax: +1 315 470 6934;


Molecular tools have now been applied for the past 5 years to dissect ectomycorrhizal (EM) community structure, and they have propelled a resurgence in interest in the field. Results from these studies have revealed that: (i) EM communities are impressively diverse and are patchily distributed at a fine scale below ground; (ii) there is a poor correspondence between fungi that appear dominant as sporocarps vs. those that appear dominant on roots; (iii) members of Russulaceae, Thelephoraceae, and/or non-thelephoroid resupinates are among the most abundant EM taxa in ecosystems sampled to date; (iv) dissimilar plants are associated with many of the same EM species when their roots intermingle — this occurs on a small enough spatial scale that fungal individuals are likely to be shared by dissimilar plants; and (v) mycoheterotrophic plants have highly specific fungal associations. Although, these results have been impressive, they have been tempered by sampling difficulties and limited by the taxonomic resolution of restriction fragment length polymorphism methods. Minor modifications of the sampling schemes, and more use of direct sequencing, has the potential to solve these problems. Use of additional methods, such as in situ hybridization to ribosomal RNA or hybridization coupled to microarrays, are necessary to open up the analysis of the mycelial component of community structure.