Diversity and ecology of soil fungal communities: increased understanding through the application of molecular techniques


  • Ian C. Anderson,

    Corresponding author
    1. The Macaulay Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, Scotland, UK.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • John W. G. Cairney

    1. Mycorrhiza Research Group, Centre for Horticulture and Plant Sciences, Parramatta Campus, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC, NSW 1797, Australia.
    Search for more papers by this author

*E-mail i.anderson@macaulay.ac.uk; Tel. (+44) 1224 498200; Fax (+44) 1224 498207.


Fungi fulfil a range of important ecological functions, yet current understanding of fungal biodiversity in soil is limited. Direct DNA extraction from soil, coupled with polymerase chain reaction amplification and community profiling techniques, has proved successful in investigations of bacterial ecology and shows great promise for elucidating the taxonomic and functional characteristics of soil fungal communities. These community profiling techniques include denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), temperature gradient gel electrophoresis (TGGE), single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP), terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP), amplified rDNA restriction analysis (ARDRA), amplified ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) and cloning, and are generally coupled with DNA sequencing. The techniques and their potential limitations are discussed, along with recent advances that have been made possible through their application in soil fungal ecology. It is unlikely that a single approach will be universally applicable for assessing fungal diversity in all soils or circumstances. However, judicious selection of the methodology, keeping the experimental aims in mind, and the exploitation of emerging technologies will undoubtedly increase our understanding of soil fungal communities in the future.