We have investigated colonization strategies by comparing the abundance and frequency of ectomycorrhizal fungal species on roots in a mature Pinus muricata forest with those present as resistant propagules colonizing potted seedlings grown in the same soil samples. Thirty-seven fungal species were distinguished by internal transcribed spacer (ITS) restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs); most were identified to species level by sporocarp RFLP matches or to genus/family level by using sequence databases for the mitochondrial and nuclear large-subunit rRNA genes. The below-ground fungal community found in the mature forest contrasted markedly with the resistant propagule community, as only four species were found in both communities. The dominant species in the mature forest were members of the Russulaceae, Thelephorales and Amanitaceae. In contrast, the resistant propagule community was dominated by Rhizopogon species and by species of the Ascomycota. Only one species, Tomentella sublilacina (Thelephorales), was common in both communities. The spatial distribution of mycorrhizae on mature roots and propagules in the soil differed among the dominant species. For example, T. sublilacina mycorrhizae exhibited a unique bias toward the organic horizons, Russula brevipes mycorrhizae were denser and more clumped than those of other species and Cenococcum propagules were localized, whereas R. subcaerulescens propagules were evenly distributed. We suggest that species differences in resource preferences and colonization strategies, such as those documented here, contribute to the maintenance of species richness in the ectomycorrhizal community.