Global assessment of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus diversity reveals very low endemism

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Science  28 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6251, pp. 970-973
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1161

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Cosmopolitan plant root symbionts

The aboveground lives of plants are only sustainable because of the symbiotic soil fungi that encase their roots. These fungi swap nutrients with plants, defend them from attack, and help them withstand abrupt environmental changes. Out of necessity, fungal symbionts in the soil would appear to be restricted and local to certain plant species. Davison et al., however, discovered that some taxa are globally distributed. How these underground fungi have dispersed so widely remains a mystery; perhaps human farmers have had something to do with it.

Science, this issue p. 970


The global biogeography of microorganisms remains largely unknown, in contrast to the well-studied diversity patterns of macroorganisms. We used arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungus DNA from 1014 plant-root samples collected worldwide to determine the global distribution of these plant symbionts. We found that AM fungal communities reflected local environmental conditions and the spatial distance between sites. However, despite AM fungi apparently possessing limited dispersal ability, we found 93% of taxa on multiple continents and 34% on all six continents surveyed. This contrasts with the high spatial turnover of other fungal taxa and with the endemism displayed by plants at the global scale. We suggest that the biogeography of AM fungi is driven by unexpectedly efficient dispersal, probably via both abiotic and biotic vectors, including humans.

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