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Ericoid mycorrhiza: a partnership that exploits harsh edaphic conditions


  • J. W. G. Cairney,

    Corresponding author
    1. Mycorrhiza Research Group, School of Science Food & Horticulture, University of Western Sydney, Parramatta Campus, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC, NSW 1797, Australia,
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  • A. A. Meharg

    1. Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Aberdeen, Cruickshank Building, St Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK
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J. W. G. Cairney. E-mail:


Plants that form ericoid mycorrhizal associations are widespread in harsh habitats. Ericoid mycorrhizal fungal endophytes are a genetically diverse group, and they appear to be able to alleviate certain environmental stresses and so facilitate the establishment and survival of Ericaceae. Some of the fungal taxa that form ericoid mycorrhizas, or at least closely related strains, also form associations with other plant hosts (trees and leafy liverworts). The functional significance of these associations and putative mycelial links between Ericaceae and other plant taxa, however, remain unclear. Evidence from environments that are contaminated by toxic metals indicates that ericoid mycorrhizal fungal endophytes, and in some instances their plant hosts, can evolve resistance to these metals. The apparent ability of these endophytes to develop resistance enables ericoid mycorrhizal plants to colonize polluted soil. This seems to be a major factor in the success of ericoid mycorrhizal taxa in a range of harsh environments.