Most terrestrial plants interact with diverse clades of mycorrhizal and root-endophytic fungi in their roots. Through belowground plant-fungal interactions, dominant plants can benefit by interacting with host-specific mutualistic fungi and proliferate in a community based on positive plant-mutualistic fungal feedback. On the other hand, subordinate plant species may persist in the community by sharing other sets (functional groups) of fungal symbionts with each other. Therefore, revealing how diverse clades of root-associated fungi are differentially hosted by dominant and subordinate plant species is essential for understanding plant community structure and dynamics. Based on 454-pyrosequencing, we determined the community composition of root-associated fungi on 36 co-occurring plant species in an oak-dominated forest in northern Japan and statistically evaluated the host preference phenotypes of diverse mycorrhizal and root-endophytic fungi. An analysis of 278 fungal taxa indicated that an ectomycorrhizal basidiomycete fungus in the genus Lactarius and a possibly endophytic ascomycete fungus in the order Helotiales significantly favored the dominant oak (Quercus) species. In contrast, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi were generally shared among subordinate plant species. Although fungi with host preferences contributed to the compartmentalization of belowground plant-fungal associations, diverse clades of ectomycorrhizal fungi and possible root endophytes were associated not only with the dominant Quercus but also with the remaining plant species. Our findings suggest that dominant-ectomycorrhizal and subordinate plant species can host different subsets of root-associated fungi, and diverse clades of generalist fungi can counterbalance the compartmentalization of plant-fungal associations. Such insights into the overall structure of belowground plant-fungal associations will help us understand the mechanisms that facilitate the coexistence of plant species in natural communities.
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