Mycorrhizal fungi influence global plant biogeography


Island biogeography has traditionally focused primarily on abiotic drivers of colonization, extinction and speciation. However, establishment on islands could also be limited by biotic drivers, such as the absence of symbionts. Most plants, for example, form symbioses with mycorrhizal fungi, whose limited dispersal to islands could act as a colonization filter for plants. We tested this hypothesis using global-scale analyses of ~1.4 million plant occurrences, including ~200,000 plant species across ~1,100 regions. We find evidence for a mycorrhizal filter (that is, the filtering out of mycorrhizal plants on islands), with mycorrhizal associations less common among native island plants than native mainland plants. Furthermore, the proportion of native mycorrhizal plants in island floras decreased with isolation, possibly as a consequence of a decline in symbiont establishment. We also show that mycorrhizal plants contribute disproportionately to the classic latitudinal gradient of plant species diversity, with the proportion of mycorrhizal plants being highest near the equator and decreasing towards the poles. Anthropogenic pressure and land use alter these plant biogeographical patterns. Naturalized floras show a greater proportion of mycorrhizal plant species on islands than in mainland regions, as expected from the anthropogenic co-introduction of plants with their symbionts to islands and anthropogenic disturbance of symbionts in mainland regions. We identify the mycorrhizal association as an overlooked driver of global plant biogeographical patterns with implications for contemporary island biogeography and our understanding of plant invasions.

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Data availability

The data used in this manuscript are available on request (GIFT and GloNAF databases). The GloNAF database has been published and available for use at The code for plotting data from GIFT is available at All family mycorrhizal proportion data are available in Supplementary Table 2, and data summarizing the proportions of mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal species per region are supplied in Supplementary Table 4.


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We acknowledge W. Jetz, D. Sax, A. Mehring and M. Heard for introducing us to collaborators, and S. Queenborough for statistical support at the start of the project. We also acknowledge support from the US NSF (DEB-1556664 to J.D.B., P.S. and C.S.D.), National Geographical Society (WW-036ER-17 to C.S.D.), German DFG (MvK: project 264740629; MW project FZT 118), Czech Centre of Excellence Plant Diversity Analysis and Synthesis Centre (14–36079G to J.P. and P.P.), Czech Academy of Sciences (RVO 67985939 to J.P. and P.P.) and Austrian Science Foundation (I2086B16 to F.E.).

Author information

C.S.D. and J.D.B. designed the study. C.S.D. and J.D.B. led the statistical analysis and writing, with continued contributions from P.W. and H.K. C.S.D. collected all of the mycorrhizal data. All other authors collected the remaining plant and environmental data and edited the manuscript.

Correspondence to Camille S. Delavaux.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1 and 3, Supplementary Figures 1–7 and Supplementary Note 1

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 2

Plant family with assigned corresponding AMF status and reference(s) cited. This table specifies consensus proportions of known plants within each family that are either mycorrhizal, non-mycorrhizal or ambiguous (AMNM). This is done first for each reference separately and then as an average (used in this study) across available references for each mycorrhizal status.

Supplementary Table 4

Summary of proportions of mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal species per region for both native and naturalized plant species. Proportions of mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal species within native and naturalized species per region along with the latitude and longitude of the regions’ mass centroids before subsetting or exclusion of zero count data.

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Delavaux, C.S., Weigelt, P., Dawson, W. et al. Mycorrhizal fungi influence global plant biogeography. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 424–429 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0823-4

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