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Title: Multiple distinct, scale‐dependent links between fungi and decomposition

Decomposition has historically been considered a function of climate and substrate but new research highlights the significant role of specific micro‐organisms and their interactions. In particular, wood decay is better predicted by variation in fungal communities than in climate. Multiple links exist: interspecific competition slows decomposition in more diverse fungal communities, whereas trait variation between different communities also affects process rates. Here, we paired field and laboratory experiments using a dispersal gradient at a forest‐shrubland ecotone to examine how fungi affect wood decomposition across scales. We observed that while fungal communities closer to forests were capable of faster decomposition, wood containing diverse fungal communities decomposed more slowly, independent of location. Dispersal‐driven stochasticity in small‐scale community assembly was nested within large‐scale turnover in the regional species pool, decoupling the two patterns. We thus find multiple distinct links between microbes and ecosystem function that manifest across different spatial scales.

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Journal Name:
Ecology Letters
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1352-1362
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract Aim

    Foliar fungi – pathogens, endophytes, epiphytes – form taxonomically diverse communities that affect plant health and productivity. The composition of foliar fungal communities is variable at spatial scales both small (e.g. individual plants) and large (e.g. continents), yet few studies have attempted to tease apart spatial from climatic factors influencing these communities. Moreover, few studies have sampled in more than 1 year to gauge interannual variation in community structure.


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    Our results suggest that the environment plays a greater role in structuring foliar fungal communities than dispersal limitation.

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  3. Summary

    Diverse communities of fungi and bacteria in deadwood mediate wood decay. While rates of decomposition vary greatly among woody species and spatially distinct habitats, the relative importance of these factors in structuring microbial communities and whether these shift over time remains largely unknown. We characterized fungal and bacterial diversity within pieces of deadwood that experienced 6.3–98.8% mass loss while decaying in common garden ‘rotplots’ in a temperate oak‐hickory forest in the Ozark Highlands, MO, USA. Communities were isolated from 21 woody species that had been decomposing for 1–5 years in spatially distinct habitats at the landscape scale (top and bottom of watersheds) and within stems (top and bottom of stems). Microbial community structure varied more strongly with wood traits than with spatial locations, mirroring the relative role of these factors on decay rates on the same pieces of wood even after 5 years. Co‐occurring fungal and bacterial communities persistently influenced one another independently from their shared environmental conditions. However, the relative influence of wood construction versus spatial locations differed between fungi and bacteria, suggesting that life history characteristics of these clades structure diversity differently across space and time in decomposing wood.

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  4. Abstract

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