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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Apr 22;270(1517):835-42.

Specialized cheating of the ectomycorrhizal symbiosis by an epiparasitic liverwort.

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  • 1Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3102, USA.


Many non-photosynthetic vascular plants in 10 diverse families obtain all of their carbon from fungi, but in most cases the fungi and the ultimate sources of carbon are unknown. In a few cases, such plants have been shown to be epiparasitic because they obtain carbon from neighbouring green plants through shared mycorrhizal fungi. In all such cases, the epiparasitic plants have been found to specialize upon narrow lineages of ecto- or arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Here we show that a non-vascular plant, the non-photosynthetic liverwort Cryptothallus mirabilis, is epiparasitic and is specialized on Tulasnella species that form ectomycorrhizae with surrounding trees at four locations in England, France and Portugal. By using microcosm experiments we show that the interaction with Tulasnella is necessary for growth of Cryptothallus, and by using labelling experiments we show that (14)CO(2) provided to birch seedlings is transferred to Cryptothallus by Tulasnella. This is one of the first documented cases of epiparasitism by a non-vascular plant and of ectomycorrhizal formation by Tulasnella. These results broaden the emerging association between epiparasitism and mycorrhizal specialization into a new class of plants and a new order of fungi.

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