• arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis;
  • cheating;
  • Glomeromycota;
  • Glomus;
  • mycoheterotrophy


The majority of achlorophyllous mycoheterotrophic plant species associate with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). Previous studies have shown that some species are highly specialized towards narrow lineages of AMF and have suggested that only particular lineages of these fungi are targeted by mycoheterotrophic plants. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed all available partial SSU sequences of AMF associated with mycoheterotrophic plants including data from 13 additional specimens from French Guiana, Gabon and Australia. Sequences were assigned to ‘virtual taxa’ (VT) according to the MaarjAM database. We found that 20% of all known Glomeromycota VT are involved in mycoheterotrophic interactions and the majority of associations involve Glomeraceae (Glomus Group A) fungi. While some mycoheterotrophic plant species have been found growing with only a single VT, many species are able to associate with a wide range of AMF. We calculated significant phylogenetic clustering of Glomeromycota VT involved in mycoheterotrophic interactions, suggesting that associations between mycoheterotrophic plants and AMF are influenced by the phylogenetic relationships of the fungi. Our results demonstrate that many lineages of AMF are prone to exploitation by mycoheterotrophic plants. However, mycoheterotrophs from different plant lineages and different geographical regions tend to be dependent on lineages of AMF that are phylogenetically related.