Root-fungal associations of Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica in the maritime and sub-Antarctic.
The two native Antarctic vascular plant species, Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica, were sampled from 15 points along a 1480 km latitudinal transect from South Georgia (54°S, 36°W) through to the Léonie Islands on the western Antarctic Peninsula (67°S, 68°W). Roots of plants were cleared and stained and fungal structures recorded. The commonest type of fungal association was that formed by dark septate endophytes (DSE): 32% and 27% of the root lengths of C. quitensis and D. antarctica were colonized by hyphae of these fungi, respectively. Hyaline and stained septate hyphae were also common in roots. Coarse and fine arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) occurred in the roots of both plant species from South Georgia, and fine AM colonization with occasional arbuscules was also sporadically recorded in roots from the South Shetland Islands, suggesting functional associations between higher plants and AM symbionts. Fungal abundances were not associated with soil chemistry, but AM abundance was associated with seasonal surface air temperature, with lower colonization in more southerly, colder habitats. We conclude that DSE are widespread, and that AM fungi are sparse but present and decline in abundance at higher latitudes, in the roots of C. quitensis and D. antarctica.