Does fungal competitive ability explain host specificity or rarity in ectomycorrhizal symbioses?

Peter G. Kennedy, Joe Gagne, Eduardo Perez-Pazos, Lotus A. Lofgren, Nhu H. Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two common ecological assumptions are that host generalist and rare species are poorer competitors relative to host specialist and more abundant counterparts. While these assumptions have received considerable study in both plant and animals, how they apply to ectomycorrhizal fungi remains largely unknown. To investigate how interspecific competition may influence the anomalous host associations of the rare ectomycorrhizal generalist fungus, Suillus subaureus, we conducted a seedling bioassay. Pinus strobus seedlings were inoculated in single- or two-species treatments of three Suillus species: S. subaureus, S. americanus, and S. spraguei. After 4 and 8 months of growth, seedlings were harvested and scored for mycorrhizal colonization as well as dry biomass. At both time points, we found a clear competitive hierarchy among the three ectomycorrhizal fungal species: S. americanus > S. subaureus > S. spraguei, with the competitive inferior, S. spraguei, having significantly delayed colonization relative to S. americanus and S. subaureus. In the single-species treatments, we found no significant differences in the dry biomasses of P. strobus seedlings colonized by each Suillus species, suggesting none was a more effective plant symbiont. Taken together, these results indicate that the rarity and anomalous host associations exhibited by S. subaureus in natural settings are not driven by inherently poor competitive ability or host growth promotion, but that the timing of colonization is a key factor determining the outcome of ectomycorrhizal fungal competitive interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0234099
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation (DEB grant #1554375) to P.G. Kennedy and R. Vilgalys and the University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program to J. Gagne.


  • Basidiomycota/classification
  • Biomass
  • Host Microbial Interactions/physiology
  • Host Specificity/genetics
  • Mycorrhizae/growth & development
  • Pinus/growth & development
  • Plant Roots/microbiology
  • Seedlings/growth & development
  • Symbiosis/physiology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Journal Article


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