Host population size is linked to orchid mycorrhizal fungal communities in roots and soil, which are shaped by microenvironment

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Interaction with orchid mycorrhizal fungi (OMF) is essential to all members of the Orchidaceae, yet we know little about whether or how OMF abundances in substrates shape orchid populations. While root-associated OMF diversity is catalogued frequently, technological constraints have impeded the assessments of OMF communities in substrates until recently, thereby limiting the ability to link OMF communities in a habitat to population responses. Furthermore, there is some evidence that edaphic and microclimatic conditions impact OMF in soil, yet we lack an understanding of the coupled influences of abiotic environment and OMF structure on orchid population dynamics. To discover the linkages between abiotic environment, OMF community structure, and population size, we characterized the microclimatic conditions, soil physicochemistry, and OMF communities hosted by roots and soil across large and small populations of a terrestrial orchid endemic to California Floristic Province in North America. By using high-throughput sequencing of the ITS2 region of nrDNA amplified from root and soil DNAs, we determined that both roots and soil of larger populations, which were high in phosphorus but low in zinc, organic matter, and silt, were dominated by Tulasnellaceae OTUs. In comparison, roots and soil from smaller populations of the orchid hosted higher relative abundances of the Ceratobasidiaceae. In this multiyear, range-wide study that simultaneously measured habitat environmental conditions, and soil and root OMF communities, our results suggest that soil chemistry is clearly linked to soil and root OMF communities, which then likely alter and shape orchid populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-30
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Microclimate
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Orchids
  • Platanthera cooperi
  • Population size
  • Soil


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