Mycelial biomass estimates in soils are usually obtained by measuring total hyphal length or by measuring the amount of fungal-specific biomarkers such as ergosterol and phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs). These methods determine the biomass of the fungal community as a whole and do not allow species-specific identification. Molecular methods based on the extraction of total soil DNA and the use of genes as biomarkers enable identification of mycelia directly from the environment. Three molecular techniques were compared to determine the most reliable method for determining the biomass of individual fungal species in soil. The growth of extramatrical mycelium of two ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungal species (Suillus bovinus and Paxillus involutus) in soil was monitored by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, a cloning technique and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and the results were compared with those obtained with hyphal length determination and PLFA analysis. The molecular methods enabled identification and relative quantification of both species separately in an environment with several fungal species present and showed consistent results. Amounts of target DNA per gram soil were used to quantitatively compare soil samples. Increasing amounts of S. bovinus DNA and decreasing amounts of P. involutus DNA were detected over time in an environment containing a more complex community. This work demonstrates that molecular methods provide tools to determine the biomass of individual fungal species in soil. (C) 2003 Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies.