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Keywords:

  • Fungal spread;
  • monoclonal antibody-based ELISA;
  • Rhizoctonia solani Kühn;
  • soil physical conditions

The transmission of infection by many soil-borne fungal parasites of plants depends on the ability of the fungus to grow on or through soil. Progress in analysing the effects of soil physical factors on the temporal and spatial dynamics of fungal growth has been hindered by technical difficulties of quantifying fungal biomass in soil and heterogeneity in soil properties. In this paper we use a combination of a monoclonal antibody-based immunosorbent assay and microscopy to analyse the effects of soil physical properties on the spatial and temporal dynamics of colonies of the economically important fungus Rhizoctonia solani Kühn growing in two dimensions and three dimensions in a sand. Combinations of different particle-size distributions and matric potential are used to manipulate the air-filled pore volume and pore-size distribution independently of each other. Temporal dynamics are measured by the change in fungal biomass over time whereas spatial dynamics relate to fungal spread and are measured by the colony size, the rate of colony expansion and the biomass distribution within colonies. We show that the fungus spreads more than three times further over surfaces than through sand, even though the same amount of biomass is produced in each case. Pore-size distribution and air-filled pore space both affected the extent and rate of fungal spread in three dimensions within sand, with more rapid and extensive spread in a coarse sand compared with a fine sand at identical air-filled pore volume. The spread of fungal hyphae along surfaces was affected neither by differences in surface texture nor by air-filled volume, and was substantially more homogeneous than for three-dimensional spread. We argue that the relative impermeability of sand surfaces to penetration by hyphae might be influenced by the ability of the fungus to branch within a confined space rather than simply to penetrate the pores. The broader epidemiological and ecological consequences of preferential spread by parasitic and saprophytic fungi along surfaces rather than through the dense soil volume are discussed.