Niche differentiation and expansion of plant species are associated with mycorrhizal symbiosis

Maret Gerz*, C. Guillermo Bueno, Wim A. Ozinga, Martin Zobel, Mari Moora

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Mycorrhizal symbiosis is a widespread association between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi, which is thought to contribute to plant niche differentiation and expansion. However, this has so far not been explicitly tested. To address the effect of mycorrhizal symbiosis on plants’ realized niches, we addressed how mycorrhizal status (i.e. the frequency of occurrence of mycorrhizal symbiosis), flexibility (i.e. the ability to grow both with and without mycorrhizal symbiosis) and type of a plant species affect the realized niche optima, widths and volumes. For this, we used co-occurrence data from the flora of the Netherlands along soil fertility, moisture, pH, salinity, light and temperature gradients. Phylogenetic dependency of the species was taken into account using phylogenetic generalized least squares models. We show that facultatively and flexibly mycorrhizal plants have the widest niches compared to non-mycorrhizal and obligately mycorrhizal, and inflexible plants respectively. Among obligate plant symbionts, ecto- and ericoid mycorrhizal plants exhibited the widest niches compared to plants with other mycorrhizal types. Also, plants with different mycorrhizal statuses and types differed in their realized niche optima. Synthesis. Our results indicate that mycorrhizal symbiosis mediates plant niche differentiation and expansion, facilitating the understanding of current distribution patterns of plant species, as well as predicting shifts in plant distribution and dominance due to environmental changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-264
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • below-ground interactions
  • mycorrhizal status
  • mycorrhizal symbiosis
  • mycorrhizal type
  • niche differentiation
  • niche expansion
  • niche width
  • plant functional traits


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