Widespread association between the ericoid mycorrhizal fungus Rhizoscyphus ericae and a leafy liverwort in the maritime and sub-Antarctic
A recent study identified a fungal isolate from the Antarctic leafy liverwort Cephaloziella varians as the ericoid mycorrhizal associate Rhizoscyphus ericae. However, nothing is known about the wider Antarctic distribution of R. ericae in C. varians, and inoculation experiments confirming the ability of the fungus to form coils in the liverwort are lacking.Using direct isolation and baiting with Vaccinium macrocarpon seedlings, fungi were isolated from C. varians sampled from eight sites across a 1875-km transect through sub- and maritime Antarctica. The ability of an isolate to form coils in aseptically grown C. varians was also tested.Fungi with 98–99% sequence identity to R. ericae internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region and partial large subunit ribosomal (r)DNA sequences were frequently isolated from C. varians at all sites sampled. The EF4/Fung5 primer set did not amplify small subunit rDNA from three of five R. ericae isolates, probably accounting for the reported absence of the fungus from C. varians in a previous study. Rhizoscyphus ericae was found to colonize aseptically-grown C. varians intracellularly, forming hyphal coils.This study shows that the association between R. ericae and C. varians is apparently widespread in Antarctica, and confirms that R. ericae is at least in part responsible for the formation of the coils observed in rhizoids of field-collected C. varians.