Relationship between soil nutrients and mycorrhizal associations of two Bipinnula species (Orchidaceae) from central Chile

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Background and Aims Mycorrhizal associations are influenced by abiotic and biotic factors, including climate, soil conditions and the identity of host plants. However, the effect of environmental conditions on orchid mycorrhizal associations remains poorly understood. The present study examined how differences in soil nutrient availability are related to the diversity and composition of mycorrhizal fungi associated with two terrestrial orchid species from central Chile.

Methods For 12 populations of Bipinnula fimbriata and B. plumosa, OTU (operational taxonomic unit) richness, phylogenetic diversity and community composition of mycorrhizal fungi in root samples were estimated using internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences. Then, these mycorrhizal diversity variables were related to soil nutrients and host species using generalized linear models and non-metric multidimensional scaling.

Key Results Variation in OTU composition of mycorrhizal fungi among sites was explained mainly by orchid host species. Fungi in Tulasnellaceae and Ceratobasidiaceae were isolated from both orchid species, but the former were more frequent in B. fimbriata and the latter in B. plumosa. Soil nutrients and orchid host species had significant effects on OTU richness and phylogenetic diversity. Mycorrhizal diversity decreased in habitats with higher N in both species and increased with P availability only in B. fimbriata.

Conclusions The results suggest that soil nutrient availability modulates orchid mycorrhizal associations and provide support for the hypothesis that specialization is favoured by higher soil nutrient availability. Inter-specific differences in mycorrhizal composition can arise due to a geographical pattern of distribution of orchid mycorrhizal fungi, host preferences for fungal partners or differential performance of mycorrhizal fungi under different nutrient availabilities. Further experiments are needed to evaluate these hypotheses.

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