Island biogeography theory is one of the most influential paradigms in ecology. That island characteristics, including remoteness, can profoundly modulate biological diversity has been borne out by studies of animals and plants. By contrast, the processes influencing microbial diversity in island systems remain largely undetermined. We sequenced arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal DNA from plant roots collected on 13 islands worldwide and compared AM fungal diversity on islands with existing data from mainland sites. AM fungal communities on islands (even those >6000 km from the closest mainland) comprised few endemic taxa and were as diverse as mainland communities. Thus, in contrast to patterns recorded among macro-organisms, efficient dispersal appears to outweigh the effects of taxogenesis and extinction in regulating AM fungal diversity on islands. Nonetheless, AM fungal communities on more distant islands comprised a higher proportion of previously cultured and large-spored taxa, indicating that dispersal may be human-mediated or require tolerance of significant environmental stress, such as exposure to sunlight or high salinity. The processes driving large-scale patterns of microbial diversity are a key consideration for attempts to conserve and restore functioning ecosystems in this era of rapid global change.

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We acknowledge Andres Koppel, Hendrik Moora, Jodi Price, Riin Tamme and Anna Zobel for help with fieldwork. We are grateful to José María Fernández-Palacios for commenting on an earlier version of the manuscript.


This study was supported by the Estonian Research Council (IUT 20-28, IUT 20-29, PUT1170, PUTJD78), the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence EcolChange) and GIP CNRT (GIPCNRT98).

Author information


  1. Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Lai 40, Tartu, 51005, Estonia

    • John Davison
    • , Mari Moora
    • , Maarja Öpik
    • , Leho Ainsaar
    • , Inga Hiiesalu
    • , Teele Jairus
    • , Rein Kalamees
    • , Kadri Koorem
    • , Kersti Püssa
    • , Ülle Reier
    • , Meelis Pärtel
    • , Martti Vasar
    •  & Martin Zobel
  2. CIRAD UMR082 LSTM, 34398, Montpellier Cedex 5, France

    • Marc Ducousso
  3. Department of Biological Sciences, School of Earth and Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, 86011-5694, USA

    • Nancy Johnson
  4. IRD, UMR040 LSTM, 34398, Montpellier, France

    • Philippe Jourand
  5. Délégation à la Recherche de la Polynésie française, Bâtiment du Gouvernement, Avenue Pouvanaa a Oopa, B.P. 20981, 98713, Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

    • Jean-Yves Meyer
  6. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

    • Marina Semchenko
  7. Global Change Research Group, Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies, CSIC-UIB, Miquel Marqués 21, Esporles, 07190, Mallorca, Spain

    • Anna Traveset


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