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Fine-level mycorrhizal specificity in the Monotropoideae (Ericaceae): specificity for fungal species groups


Martin I. Bidartondo. Fax: 1-510 642 4995; E-mail:


The Monotropoideae (Ericaceae) are nonphotosynthetic angiosperms that obtain fixed carbon from basidiomycete ectomycorrhizal fungi. In previous work, we showed that each plant species is associated with a single genus or a set of closely related genera of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Here we show that the level of specificity is much higher. We used a molecular phylogenetic approach to contrast specificity patterns among eight plant lineages and three fungal genera. We relied on fungal nuclear internal transcribed spacer (nrITS) sequence data obtained from 161 basidiocarps and 85 monotropoid roots representing 286 sampled plants screened using restriction length polymorphisms. From the phylogenetic placement of fungal symbionts in fungal phylograms, we found that three basal (Sarcodes, Pterospora, Pleuricospora) and one derived lineage (Allotropa) of plants target narrow clades of closely related species groups of fungi, and four derived lineages (Monotropa hypopithys species group, Pityopus) target more distant species groups. Within most plant lineages, geography and photobiont association constrain specificity. Specificity extended further in Pterospora andromedea, in which sequence haplotypes at the plastid trn L–F region of 73 plants were significantly associated with different fungal species groups even in sympatry. These results indicate that both the macro- and microevolution of the Monotropoideae are tightly coupled to their mycorrhizal symbionts.