While you are reading this, special alliances are being formed underground… invisible to the human eye. But they are crucial to plants, and help them conquer extreme environments such as acidic soil. We’re talking arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi who help plants improve their nutrient uptake.

But how can these fungi themselves tolerate acidic soil? Are they “acidic soil specialists”, who can thrive despite the acidity? We tested this hypothesis by collecting soil containing AM fungi along an acidity gradient in Japan. We also exposed fungi from two soils of different pH (acidic/neutral) to changes in their soils’ acidity levels in the lab, and observed their response. 

Surprisingly, we discovered that the fungi in the acidic soils also occurred in the less acidic and neutral soils, making them generalists! We believe that being generalists opens up many opportunities for AM fungi (and for their associated plants) to colonize new or quickly changing habitats. 

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About this article

Summary of research
Scientists performed a controlled experiment to test if mycorrhizal fungi tend to be specialist or generalist species.
Reading level
Scientific field
Key words
NGSS standards
AP Environmental science topics
IB Biology topics
Scientific methods
Type of figure
Location of research
Scientist Affiliation
Publication date
January 2017

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