Roots of bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta (L.) Chouard ex Rothm.) are colonized by a range of fungal symbionts from several genera of the order Glomales. Using the identification scheme described in Merryweather & Fitter (1998), arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi in bluebell roots were quantified throughout the single growing season of 1994–5 and compared with populations of spores found in the soil around the roots.
In the early part of the growing season, when its activity is entirely subterranean (autumn and winter), bluebell habitually associates with a Scutellospora morphotype which is almost certainly S. dipurpurescens Morton & Koske (emend. Walker, 1993) whose spores occur in the root zone. This is the time of maximum phosphorus inflow and bulb-stored carbohydrate utilization by this mycorrhiza. A diverse flora of other AM fungal morphotypes (Acaulospora and Glomus), which might also form mycorrhizas with other plants in the vicinity of bluebells, invade the roots later in the season (spring), when P inflow is reduced and carbohydrate is available as fresh photosynthate. Their contribution to the mycorrhiza might be less than that of Scutellospora, particularly in terms of P assimilation.
Both AM fungi in roots and glomalean spores recovered from soil around bluebell roots showed a significant degree of correlation with the vegetation within which the test plants grew. In the case of AM fungi in roots, Scutellospora showed no special preference for either, but Glomus correlated with a canopy of sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus L.) and Acaulospora with oak (Quercus petraea (Mattuschka) Liebl.). Spores which most closely resembled S. dipurpurescens and Acaulospora gerdemannii Schenck & Nicolson were significantly more numerous under sycamore, but a spore like Acaulospora koskei Blaskowski, the most numerous and frequently encountered glomalean spore in the system, showed no preference for areas dominated by either tree. There was no significant relationship between AM fungal populations in bluebell roots and glomalean spores recovered from associated soil.
The two spore taxa most frequently found in the vicinity of bluebell roots (A. koskei and S. dipurpurescens) were also found in lower numbers in soil from a region of the field site in which bluebell was absent, indicating that the main bluebell AM fungi do not exclusively associate with that host.