Main fungal partners and different levels of specificity of orchid mycorrhizae in the tropical mountain forests of Ecuador
Orchids are a main component of the diversity of vascular plants in Ecuador with approximately 4000 species representing about 5.3% of the orchid species described worldwide. More than a third of these species are endemics. As orchids, in contrast to other plants, depend on mycorrhizal fungi already for seed germination and early seedling establishment, availability of appropriate fungi may strongly influence distribution of orchid populations. It is currently debated if green orchids depend on specific mycobionts or may be equally promoted by a broad spectrum of mycorrhizal fungi, discussion mostly based on data from temperate regions. Here we summarize results obtained from broad scale investigations in the tropical mountain rain forest of Ecuador revealing associations with members of Serendipitaceae (Sebacinales), Tulasnellaceae, Ceratobasidiaceae (Cantharellales), and Atractiellales. Recent molecular data show that these worldwide spread fungal groups have broad ecological implications and are specifically suited as mycorrhizal fungi of green orchids. We found that main fungal partners and different levels of specificity among orchids and their mycobionts in the tropical mountain forests correspond to findings in other biomes despite the large ecological differences.