Phytoremediation is a potentially inexpensive alternative to chemical treatment of hydrocarbon-contaminated soils, but its success depends heavily on identifying factors that govern the success of root-associated microorganisms involved in hydrocarbon degradation and plant growth stimulation. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) form symbioses with many terrestrial plants, and are known to stimulate plant growth, although both species identity and the environment influence this relationship. Although AMF are suspected to play a role in plant adaptation to hydrocarbon contamination, their distribution in hydrocarbon-contaminated soils is not well known. In this study, we examined how AMF communities were structured within the rhizosphere of 11 introduced willow cultivars as well as unplanted controls across uncontaminated and hydrocarbon-contaminated soils at the site of a former petrochemical plant. We obtained 69 282 AMF-specific 18S rDNA sequences using 454-pyrosequencing, representing 27 OTUs. Contaminant concentration was the major influence on AMF community structure, with different AMF families dominating at each contaminant level. The most abundant operational taxonomic unit in each sample represented a large proportion of the total community, and this proportion was positively associated with increasing contamination, and seemingly, by planting as well. The most contaminated soils were dominated by three phylotypes closely related to Rhizophagus irregularis, while these OTUs represented only a small proportion of sequences in uncontaminated and moderately contaminated soils. These results suggest that in situ inoculation of AMF strains could be an important component of phytoremediation treatments, but that strains should be selected from the narrow group that is both adapted to contaminant toxicity and able to compete with indigenous AMF species.
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