Ectomycorrhizal fungi and interspecific competition: species interactions, community structure, coexistence mechanisms, and future research directions

New Phytol. 2010 Sep;187(4):895-910. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2010.03399.x. Epub 2010 Jul 28.


The field of ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) ecology has largely developed outside the ecological mainstream, owing in large part to the challenges in studying the structure and dynamics of EMF communities. With advances in molecular identification and other research techniques, however, there has been growing interest among mycologists and ecologists in understanding how different ecological factors affect EMF community structure and diversity. While factors such as soil chemistry and host specificity have long been considered important, an increasing number of laboratory and field studies have documented that interspecific competition also has a major impact on EMF species interactions and may significantly influence EMF community structure. In this review, I examine the progress that has been made in understanding the nature of EMF competition. Currently, there are four conclusions that can be drawn: negative competitive effects are rarely reciprocal; competitive outcomes are environmentally context-dependent; field distributions often reflect competitive interactions; and timing of colonization influences competitive success. In addition, I highlight recent studies documenting links between competitive coexistence and EMF community structure, including checkerboard distributions, lottery models, storage effects, and colonization-competition tradeoffs. Finally, I discuss several aspects of EMF competition needing further investigation and some newer methods with which to address them.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Fungi*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Mycorrhizae*
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Plants / microbiology*