Maintenance of host specialisation gradients in ectomycorrhizal symbionts

Fay Voller, Agnès Ardanuy, Andy F.S. Taylor, David Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Many fungi that form ectomycorrhizas exhibit a degree of host specialisation, and individual trees are frequently colonised by communities of mycorrhizal fungi comprising species that fall on a gradient of specialisation along genetic, functional and taxonomic axes of variation. By contrast, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi exhibit little specialisation. Here, we propose that host tree root morphology is a key factor that gives host plants fine-scale control over colonisation and therefore opportunities for driving specialisation and speciation of ectomycorrhizal fungi. A gradient in host specialisation is likely driven by four proximate mechanistic ‘filters’ comprising partner availability, signalling recognition, competition for colonisation, and symbiotic function (trade, rewards and sanctions), and the spatially restricted colonisation seen in heterorhizic roots enables these mechanisms, especially symbiotic function, to be more effective in driving the evolution of specialisation. We encourage manipulation experiments that integrate molecular genetics and isotope tracers to test these mechanisms, alongside mathematical simulations of eco-evolutionary dynamics in mycorrhizal symbioses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date20 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2023


  • heterorhizic roots
  • host specialist
  • partner choice
  • resource exchange
  • speciation


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