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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Feb 24;101(8):2369-74.

High genetic variability and low local diversity in a population of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biology Building, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are ecologically important root symbionts of most terrestrial plants. Ecological studies of AMF have concentrated on differences between species; largely assuming little variability within AMF species. Although AMF are clonal, they have evolved to contain a surprisingly high within-species genetic variability, and genetically different nuclei can coexist within individual spores. These traits could potentially lead to within-population genetic variation, causing differences in physiology and symbiotic function in AMF populations, a consequence that has been largely neglected. We found highly significant genetic and phenotypic variation among isolates of a population of Glomus intraradices but relatively low total observed genetic diversity. Because we maintained the isolated population in a constant environment, phenotypic variation can be considered as variation in quantitative genetic traits. In view of the large genetic differences among isolates by randomly sampling two individual spores, <50% of the total observed population genetic diversity is represented. Adding an isolate from a distant population did not increase total observed genetic diversity. Genetic variation exceeded variation in quantitative genetic traits, indicating that selection acted on the population to retain similar traits, which might be because of the multigenomic nature of AMF, where considerable genetic redundancy could buffer the effects of changes in the genetic content of phenotypic traits. These results have direct implications for ecological research and for studying AMF genes, improving commercial AMF inoculum, and understanding evolutionary mechanisms in multigenomic organisms.

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