Spatial characterization of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal molecular diversity at the submetre scale in a temperate grassland


  • Editor: Karl Ritz

Correspondence: Daniel L. Mummey, Division of Biological Sciences, The University of Montana, 32 Campus Dr, Missoula, MT, USA, 59812. Tel.: +406 243 2393; fax: +406 243 4184; e-mail:


Although arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) form spatially complex communities in terrestrial ecosystems, the scales at which this diversity manifests itself is poorly understood. This information is critical to the understanding of the role of AMF in plant community composition. We examined small-scale (submetre) variability of AMF community composition (terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism fingerprinting) and abundance (extraradical hyphal lengths) in two 1 m2 plots situated in a native grassland ecosystem of western Montana. Extraradical AMF hyphal lengths varied greatly between samples (14–89 m g soil−1) and exhibited spatial structure at scales <30 cm. The composition of AMF communities was also found to exhibit significant spatial autocorrelation, with correlogram analyses suggesting patchiness at scales <50 cm. Supportive of overall AMF community composition analyses, individual AMF ribotypes corresponding to specific phylogenetic groups exhibited distinct spatial autocorrelation. Our results demonstrate that AMF diversity and abundance can be spatially structured at scales of <1 m. Such small-scale heterogeneity in the soil suggests that establishing seedlings may be exposed to very different, location dependent AMF communities. Our results also have direct implications for representative sampling of AMF communities in the field.