Mycorrhizal fungi are critical components of terrestrial habitats and agroecosystems. Recently, Mucoromycotina fine root endophyte fungi (MucFRE) were found to engage in nutritional mutualism with Lycopodiella inundata, which belongs to one of the earliest vascular plant lineages known to associate with MucFRE. The extent to which this mutualism plays a role in resilient plant populations can only be understood by examining its occurrence rate and phenological patterns. To test for prevalence and seasonality in colonization, we examined 1305 individual L. inundata roots from 275 plants collected during spring and autumn 2019 across 11 semi-natural heathlands in Britain and the Netherlands. We quantified presence/absence of fine root endophyte (FRE) hyphae and vesicles and explored possible relationships between temperature and precipitation in the months immediately before sampling. Fine root endophyte hyphae were dominant in all of the examined heathlands, and every colonized root had FRE in both cortical cells and root hairs. However, we found significant differences in colonization between the two seasons at every site. Overall, 14% of L. inundata roots were colonized in spring (2.4% with vesicles) compared with 86% in autumn (7.6% with vesicles). Colonization levels between populations were also significantly different, correlating with temperature and precipitation, suggesting some local environments may be more conducive to root and related hyphal growth. These marked seasonal differences in host-plant colonization suggest that results about FRE from single time point collections should be carefully interpreted. Our findings are relevant to habitat restoration, species conservation plans, agricultural bioinoculation treatments, and microbial diversity studies.
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