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Title: Niche modelling predicts that soil fungi occupy a precarious climate in boreal forests
Abstract Aim

Efforts to predict the responses of soil fungal communities to climate change are hindered by limited information on how fungal niches are distributed across environmental hyperspace. We predict the climate sensitivity of North American soil fungal assemblage composition by modelling the ecological niches of several thousand fungal species.


One hundred and thirteen sites in the United States and Canada spanning all biomes except tropical rain forest.

Major Taxa Studied


Time Period



We combine internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences from two continental‐scale sampling networks in North America and cluster them into operational taxonomic units (OTUs) at 97% similarity. Using climate and soil data, we fit ecological niche models (ENMs) based on logistic ridge regression for all OTUs present in at least 10 sites (n = 8597). To describe the compositional turnover of soil fungal assemblages over climatic gradients, we introduce a novel niche‐based metric of climate sensitivity, the Sørensen climate sensitivity index. Finally, we map climate sensitivity across North America.


ENMs have a mean out‐of‐sample predictive accuracy of 73.8%, with temperature variables being strong predictors of fungal distributions. Soil fungal climate niches clump together across environmental space, which suggests common physiological limits and predicts abrupt changes in composition with respect to changes in climate. Soil fungi in North American climates are more likely to be limited by cold and dry conditions than by warm and wet conditions, and ectomycorrhizal fungi generally tolerate colder temperatures than saprotrophic fungi. Sørensen climate sensitivity exhibits a multimodal distribution across environmental space, with a peak in climates corresponding to boreal forests.

Main Conclusions

The boreal forest occupies an especially precarious region of environmental space for the composition of soil fungal assemblages in North America, as even small degrees of warming could trigger large compositional changes characterized mainly by an influx of warm‐adapted species.

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Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Ecology and Biogeography
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1127-1139
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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