The importance of individuals: intraspecific diversity of mycorrhizal plants and fungi in ecosystems
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A key component of biodiversity is the number and abundance of individuals (i.e. genotypes), and yet such intraspecific diversity is rarely considered when investigating the effects of biodiversity of mycorrhizal plants and fungi on ecosystem processes. Within a species, individuals vary considerably in important reproductive and functional attributes, including carbon fixation, mycelial growth and nutrient utilization, but this is driven by both genetic and environmental (including climatic) factors. The interactions between individual plants and mycorrhizal fungi can have important consequences for the maintenance of biodiversity and regulation of resource transfers in ecosystems. There is also emerging evidence that assemblages of genotypes may affect ecosystem processes to a similar extent as assemblages of species. The application of whole-genome sequencing and population genomics to mycorrhizal plants and fungi will be crucial to determine the extent to which individual variation in key functional attributes is genetically based. We argue the need to unravel the importance of the diversity (especially assemblages of different evenness and richness) of individuals of both mycorrhizal plants and fungi, and the need to take a 'community genetics' approach to better understand the functional significance of the biodiversity of mycorrhizal symbioses.
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