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Commun Integr Biol. 2009;2(2):110-2.

Within-population genetic variability in mycorrhizal interactions.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; University of California, Santa Cruz; Santa Cruz, CA USA.


The geographic mosaic theory of coevolution hypothesizes that natural selection on species interactions varies among ecosystems, partly because the genes involved in species interactions differ in their fitness effects among environments. This selection mosaic may be expressed, at the extreme, as ecological outcomes ranging from mutualism to parasitism among environments. In a recent laboratory experiment on the interaction between a plant, bishop pine (Pinus muricata), and a root-symbiotic ectomycorrhizal fungus, Rhizopogon occidentalis, we demonstrated the potential for selection mosaics in that interaction, and the existence of substantial within-population genetic variation for symbiotic compatibility in the interaction. Here, we present the results from a second experiment on the interaction between the same ectomycorrhizal fungus and a different plant, shore pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta), designed to test for the presence of genetic variation for symbiotic compatibility in another similar system, and also to test whether such variation might be generated in part by adaptation of fungal lineages to individual trees. In this experiment, we found no genetic variation among plant lineages for compatibility with the fungal symbiont, and no evidence for adaptation of fungal lineages to individual plants, but the two fungal genotypes differed greatly in their compatibility with the plant hosts. Specifically, one of the two fungal genotypes not only colonized host plants less intensively than the other, but also had a negative effect on plant growth. Altogether, these results suggest the potential for ongoing natural selection on the ectomycorrhizal fungus, R. occidentalis, for different levels of symbiotic compatibility with particular pine hosts, but the mechanisms generating and maintaining genetic variation for symbiotic compatibility remain unclear. Such results will aid in efforts to develop realistic models of how plants and their symbionts coevolve over broad geographic ranges in which they co-occur.


Pinus; Rhizopogon occidentalis; coevolution; ectomycorrhizal symbiosis; geographic mosaic

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