The slippery nature of ectomycorrhizal host specificity: Suillus fungi associated with novel pinoid (Picea) and abietoid (Abies) hosts

Eduardo Pérez-Pazos, Amanda Certano, Joe Gagne, Renée Lebeuf, Noah Siegel, Nhu Nguyen, Peter G. Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Suillus is among the best-known examples of an ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal genus that demonstrates a high degree of host specificity. Currently recognized host genera of Suillus include Larix, Pinus, and Pseudotsuga, which all belong to the pinoid clade of the family Pinaceae. Intriguingly, Suillus sporocarps have been sporadically collected in forests in which known hosts from these genera are locally absent. To determine the capacity of Suillus to associate with alternative hosts in both the pinoid and abietoid clades of Pinaceae, we examined the host associations of two Suillus species (S. punctatipes and S. glandulosus) through field-based root tip sampling and seedling bioassays. Root tip collections underneath Suillus sporocarps were molecularly identified (fungi: nuc rDNA internal transcribed spacer region ITS1-5.8S-ITS2 [ITS barcode]; plant: trnL) to assess the association with multiple hosts. The bioassays contained both single- and two-species treatments, including a primary (Larix or Pseudotsuga) and a secondary (Picea, Pinus, or Abies) host. For the S. punctatipes bioassay, an additional treatment in which the primary host was removed after 8 mo was included to assess the effect of primary host presence on longer-term ECM colonization. The field-based results confirmed that Suillus fungi were able to associate with Abies and Tsuga hosts, representing novel host genera for this genus. In the bioassays, colonization on the primary hosts was detected in both single- and two-species treatments, but no colonization was present when Picea and Abies hosts were grown alone. Removal of a primary host had no effect on percent ECM colonization, suggesting that primary hosts are not necessary for sustaining Suillus colonization once they are successfully established on secondary hosts. Collectively, our results indicate that host specificity is more flexible in this genus than previously acknowledged and help to explain the presence of Suillus in forests where recognized hosts are not present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)891-901
Number of pages11
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 9 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation (Division of Environmental Biology grant 1554375) to P. G. Kennedy. We thank Bill Bryden for assistance with spore inoculum for the Suillus glandulosus bioassay and Stuart Graham for additional Suillus punctatipes sporocarp collections.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Mycological Society of America.


  • Ecological specificity
  • Pinaceae
  • Suillus glandulosus
  • Suillus punctatipes
  • host association
  • mycorrhizal symbiosis


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