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Diversity of fungi in hair roots of Ericaceae varies along a vegetation gradient


Ian C. Anderson, Fax: +44 (0) 1224 498207; E-mail:


Ericaceous dwarf shrubs including Calluna vulgaris and Vaccinium spp. occur both in open heathland communities and in forest ecosystems as understorey vegetation. Ericaceous shrubs were once thought to form ericoid mycorrhizal associations with a relatively narrow range of ascomycetous fungi closely related to, and including, Rhizoscyphus ericae. However, perceptions have recently changed since the realization that a broader range of ascomycete fungi, and in some cases basidiomycete fungi, can also form associations with the roots of ericaceous plants. We used a combination of molecular approaches, including denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism, cloning and sequencing, to investigate the diversity of fungi associated with C. vulgaris roots collected across a heathland/native Scots pine forest vegetation gradient. We also determined differences in fungal community composition between roots of co-occurring C. vulgaris and Vaccinium myrtillus in the forest understorey. Collectively, the data show that a large diversity of potentially ericoid mycorrhizal fungal taxa associate with roots of C. vulgaris and V. myrtillus, and that ascomycetes were about 2.5 times more frequent than basidiomycetes. The assemblages of fungi associated with C. vulgaris and V. myrtillus were different. In addition, the community of fungi associated with C. vulgaris hair roots was different for samples collected from the forest, open heathland and a transition zone between the two. This separation was partly, but not entirely, due to the occurrence of typical ectomycorrhizal basidiomycetes associated with the hair roots of C. vulgaris in the forest understorey. These data demonstrate that forest understorey ericaceous shrubs associate with a diverse range of ascomycete and basidiomycete taxa, including typical ectomycorrhizal basidiomycetes.