Two major types of Frankia strains are usually recognized, based on the ability to sporulate in-planta: spore-positive (Sp+) and spore-negative (Sp-). We carried out a study of Sp+ and Sp- Frankia strains based on nodules collected on Alnus glutinosa, Alnus incana and Alnus viridis. The nodules were phenotyped using improved histology methods, and endophytic Frankia strain genotype was determined using a multilocus sequence analysis approach. An additional sampling was done to assess the relation between Sp+ phenotype frequency and genetic diversity of Frankia strains at the alder stand scale. Our results revealed that (i) Sp+ and Sp- Alnus-infective Frankia strains are genetically different even when sampled from the same alder stand and the same host-plant species; (ii) there are at least two distinct phylogenetic lineages of Sp+ Frankia that cluster according to the host-plant species and without regard of geographic distance and (iii) genetic diversity of Sp+ strains is very low at the alder stand scale compared with Sp- strains. Difference in evolutionary history and genetic diversity between Sp+ and Sp- Frankia allows us to discuss the possible ecological role of in-planta sporulation.
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© 2015 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.