Within the basidiomycetes, the vast majority of known mycorrhizal species are homobasidiomycetes. It was therefore surprising when molecular and ultrastructural studies revealed a broad diversity of mycorrhizal associations involving members of the heterobasidiomycetous Sebacinaceae, fungi which, due to their inconspicuous basidiomes, have been often overlooked. To investigate the phylogenetic position of the Sebacinaceae within the basidiomycetes and to infer phylogenetic relationships within the Sebacinaceae, we made molecular phylogenetic analyses based on nuclear rDNA. We present a well-resolved phylogeny of the main lineages of basidiomycetes which suggests that the Sebacinaceae is the most basal group with known mycorrhizal members. Since more basal taxa of basidiomycetes consist of predominantly mycoparasitic and phytoparasitic fungi, it seems possible that a mycorrhizal life strategy, which was transformed into a saprotrophic strategy several times convergently, is an apomorphic character for the Hymenomycetidae. Mycorrhizal taxa of Sebacinaceae, including mycobionts of ectomycorrhizas, orchid mycorrhizas, ericoid mycorrhizas, and jungermannioid mycorrhizas, are distributed over two subgroups. One group contains species with macroscopically visible basidiomes, whereas members of the other group probably lack basidiomes. Sebacina appears to be polyphyletic; current species concepts in Sebacinaceae are questionable. Sebacina vermifera sensu Warcup & Talbot consists of a broad complex of species possibly including mycobionts of jungermannioid and ericoid mycorrhizas.
This wide spectrum of mycorrhizal types in one fungal family is unique. Extrapolating from the known rDNA sequences in Sebacinaceae, it is evident that there is a cosm of mycorrhizal biodiversity yet to be discovered in this group. Taxonomically, we recognise the Sebacinaceae as constituting a new order, the Sebacinales.