It is commonly assumed that ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi associated with temperate forest tree roots are not host-specific. Because this assumption relies on species delineations based on fruitbodies morphology or ribosomal DNA sequences, host-specific, cryptic biological species cannot be ruled out. To demonstrate that Laccaria amethystina has true generalist abilities, we sampled 510 fruitbodies on three French sites situated 150–450 km away from each other. At each site, populations from monospecific stands (Abies alba, Castanea europea and Fagus sylvatica) or mixed stands (F. sylvatica + Quercus robur or Q. robur +Carpinus betulus) were sampled. Three different sets of markers were used for genotyping: (i) five microsatellite loci plus the ribosomal DNA intergenic spacer, (ii) the mitochondrial large ribosomal DNA subunit, and (iii) direct amplification of length polymorphism (DALP), a new method for fungi providing dominant markers. Evidence for allogamous populations (with possible inbreeding at local scale) and possibly for biparental mitochondrial inheritance was found. All markers congruently demonstrated that L. amethystina populations show little structure at this geographical scale, indicating high gene flow (as many as 50% of founding spores in all populations being of external origin). Our results also showed that host species contributed even less to population differentiation, and there was no evidence for cryptic biological species. This first in situ demonstration of a true multihost ability in an ECM species is discussed in terms of ecology and evolutionary biology.
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