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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Nov 22;276(1675):4053-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1190. Epub 2009 Sep 9.

Evidence of a myco-heterotroph in the plant family Ericaceae that lacks mycorrhizal specificity.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-3102, USA. nhynson@nature.berkeley.edu


Myco-heterotrophy is one of the longest-studied aspects of the mycorrhizal symbiosis, but there remain many critical, unanswered questions regarding the ecology and physiology of myco-heterotrophic plants and their associated fungi. The vast majority of all myco-heterotrophs studied to date have exhibited specificity towards narrow lineages of fungi, but it is unclear whether the loss of photosynthesis in these plants is contingent upon fungal specialization. Here, we examine the fungal associates of the myco-heterotroph Pyrola aphylla (Ericaceae) and its closest green relative Pyrola picta to determine the pattern of mycorrhizal specialization. Our findings show that both plant species associate with a range of root-inhabiting fungi, the majority of which are ectomycorrhizal taxa. This study provides the first example of a eudicotyledonous myco-heterotroph that is a mycorrhizal generalist, indicating that the loss of photosynthesis in myco-heterotrophs is not contingent upon fungal specialization.

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