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This research aims to understand the large-scale diversity and distribution of ectomycorrhizal fungi and how they drive biogeochemical processes and responses to environmental change. 137 level II plots of ICP Forests were sampled across Europe. The effects of pollution and changes in forest soil quality have been closely monitored since the 1980s. The effects of host, environment, climate and geographical variables on ectomycorrhizal diversity have been determined, and thresholds of community change defined for key variables. Host specificity was quantified along with plasticity in functional traits involved in soil foraging across gradients.

Research objectives

  • Conduct a detailed mycorrhizal analysis using ICP Forests Level II long-term monitoring network for soil, atmospheric and vegetation parameters.
  • Analyse the influence host, environment, climate and geographic variables on ectomycorrhizal fungi across Europe.
  • Disentangle significant variability explained by co-varying climatic, soil and atmospheric deposition factors.
  • Test the generality of host specificity.
  • Detect precise thresholds of mycorrhizal change to inform environmental policy.
  • Infer trait plasticity linked to key environmental gradients.
  • Detect ectomycorrhizal biodiversity hotspots in Europe.
  • Analyse temporal change of ectomycorrhizal fungi across strong environmental gradients

Findings and Recommendations

Key findings include:

  • Environmental and host factors explain most of the variation in ectomycorrhizal diversity.
  • Environmental thresholds used as major ecosystem assessment tools need adjustment.
  • Importance of belowground specificity and plasticity has previously been underappreciated.

Latest updates

It is planned to conduct another Europe-wide survey of Beech and Pine ectomycorrhizas and re-sample selected ICP Forests plots that were already sampled in 2013-2015. The aim of this survey is to understand how changing environmental variables influence ECM communities over time. To capture the influence of environmental change, selected ICP Forests plots will include a plots where key environmental variables increased, decreased and where these stayed the same within the previous 5-7 years.

Our Involvement

Forest Research is involved in the sampling of ectomycorrhizal fungi at 8 level II plots and provides long-term monitoring results of host, environment, soil and climate variables through the ICP Forests database.

Publications arising from this research

Van der Linde S, Suz LM, Orme CDL, Cox F, Andreae H, Asi E, Atkinson B, Benham S, Carroll C, Cools N, De Vos B, Dietrich H-P, Eichhorn J, Gehrmann J, Grebenc T, Gweon HS, Hansen K, Jacob F, Kristöfel F, Lech P, Manninger M, Martin J, Meesenburg H, Merilä P, Nicolas M, Pavlenda P, Rautio P, Schaub M, Schröck H-W, Seidling W, Šrámek V, Thimonier A, Thomsen IM, Titeux H, Vanguelova E, Verstraeten A, Vesterdal L, Waldner P, Wijk S, Zhang Y, Žlindra D, Bidartondo MI (2018) Environment and host as large-scale controls of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Nature 558: 243 – 248.

Suz LM, Barsoum N, Benham S, Cheffings C, Cox F, Hacket L, Jones AG, Mueller GM, Orme D, Seidling W, Van der Linde S, Bidartondo MI (2015) Monitoring ectomycorrhizal fungi at large scales for science, forest management, fungal conservation and environmental policy. Annals of Forest Science 72: 877-885.

Van der Linde S, Suz LM, Cox F, Bidartondo MI (2018) Nitrogen deposition changes ectomycorrhizal fungi. In: ICP Forests Executive Report 2018.

Funding and partners

This research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC; grant NE/K006339/1) awarded to Martin Bidartondo (Imperial College London and RBG Kew) and David Orme (Imperial College London). Additional funding is currently being sought to continue this research and progress from the baseline that has now been set, this would enable us to investigate temporal changes of ectomycorrhizal fungi over large geographical scales.

This project is co-ordinated by Imperial College London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and brings together partners from the ICP Forests programme including institutes from 20 European countries

Funding & partners
  • imperial college londonImperial College London
  • Kew Royal Botanic Gardens LogoRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • Logo of ICP forestsICP Forests
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Sue Benham

Research Scientist