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A population genomics approach shows widespread geographical distribution of cryptic genomic forms of the symbiotic fungus Rhizophagus irregularis.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF; phylum Gomeromycota) associate with plants forming one of the most successful microbe-plant associations. The fungi promote plant diversity and have a potentially important role in global agriculture. Plant growth depends on both inter- and intra-specific variation in AMF. It was recently reported that an unusually large number of AMF taxa have an intercontinental distribution, suggesting long-distance gene flow for many AMF species, facilitated by either long-distance natural dispersal mechanisms or human-assisted dispersal. However, the intercontinental distribution of AMF species has been questioned because the use of very low-resolution markers may be unsuitable to detect genetic differences among geographically separated AMF, as seen with some other fungi. This has been untestable because of the lack of population genomic data, with high resolution, for any AMF taxa. Here we use phylogenetics and population genomics to test for intra-specific variation in Rhizophagus irregularis, an AMF species for which genome sequence information already exists. We used ddRAD sequencing to obtain thousands of markers distributed across the genomes of 81 R. irregularis isolates and related species. Based on 6 888 variable positions, we observed significant genetic divergence into four main genetic groups within R. irregularis, highlighting that previous studies have not captured underlying genetic variation. Despite considerable genetic divergence, surprisingly, the variation could not be explained by geographical origin, thus also supporting the hypothesis for at least one AMF species of widely dispersed AMF genotypes at an intercontinental scale. Such information is crucial for understanding AMF ecology, and how these fungi can be used in an environmentally safe way in distant locations.
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