Specificity and resilience in the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi of a natural woodland community


*Correspondence: Thorunn Helgason (fax +44 0 1904 328505; e-mail th7@york.ac.uk).


  • 1The composition of communities of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi can have a large effect on the performance of their plant hosts. The role of individual fungal species in shaping this response is as yet unresolved.
  • 2We have used the fungicide benomyl to alter the community of AM fungi in undisturbed monoliths of soil in a natural community. Changes in the community were characterized by root colonization (%RLC), cloning, sequencing and tRFLP of a partial SSUrDNA fragment. Eleven plant species were sufficiently abundant in the monoliths to be examined.
  • 3In the highly mycorrhiza-dependent perennial herb Ajuga reptans, phosphate concentration was significantly reduced after benomyl treatment over a full growing season. The other plant species showed low colonization and no significant difference in phosphate concentration after benomyl treatment.
  • 4Although colonization in A. reptans was reduced, many mycorrhizal fungi survived in the roots. Some became more abundant following fungicide treatment, suggesting competitive release. Fungi that increased were generalists that have been identified in field samples from published studies colonizing a wide range of plant species. Those that declined were specialists with a narrow host range; five types had not been recorded previously in field samples.
  • 5AM fungi in this study differed greatly in their response to perturbation, independent of the identity of the host plant. If such functional diversity is widespread, then elucidating the part played by AM fungal diversity in regulating plant community structure will be key to our understanding and management of ecosystems.