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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  2. 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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  3. Abstract

    Plant–mycorrhizal interactions mediate plant nitrogen (N) limitation and can inform model projections of the duration and strength of the effect of increasing CO2on plant growth. We present dendrochronological evidence of a positive, but context-dependent fertilization response ofQuercus rubra L. to increasing ambient CO2(iCO2) along a natural soil nutrient gradient in a mature temperate forest. We investigated this heterogeneous response by linking metagenomic measurements of ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal N-foraging traits and dendrochronological models of plant uptake of inorganic N and N bound in soil organic matter (N-SOM). N-SOM putatively enhanced tree growth under conditions of low inorganic N availability, soil conditions where ECM fungal communities possessed greater genomic potential to decay SOM and obtain N-SOM. These trees were fertilized by 38 years of iCO2. In contrast, trees occupying inorganic N rich soils hosted ECM fungal communities with reduced SOM decay capacity and exhibited neutral growth responses to iCO2. This study elucidates how the distribution of N-foraging traits among ECM fungal communities govern tree access to N-SOM and subsequent growth responses to iCO2.

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  4. Summary

    The extent to which ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi decay soil organic matter (SOM) has implications for accurately predicting forest ecosystem response to climate change. Investigating the distribution of gene traits associated with SOM decay among ectomycorrhizal fungal communities could improve understanding of SOM dynamics and plant nutrition. We hypothesized that soil inorganic nitrogen (N) availability structures the distribution of ECM fungal genes associated with SOM decay and, specifically, that ECM fungal communities occurring in inorganic N‐poor soils have greater SOM decay potential.

    To test this hypothesis, we paired amplicon and shotgun metagenomic sequencing of 60 ECM fungal communities associating withQuercus rubraalong a natural soil inorganic N gradient.

    Ectomycorrhizal fungal communities occurring in low inorganic N soils were enriched in gene families involved in the decay of lignin, cellulose, and chitin. Ectomycorrhizal fungal community composition was the strongest driver of shifts in metagenomic estimates of fungal decay potential. Our study simultaneously illuminates the identity of key ECM fungal taxa and gene families potentially involved in the decay of SOM, and we link rhizomorphic and medium‐distance hyphal morphologies with enhanced SOM decay potential.

    Coupled shifts in ECM fungal community composition and community‐level decay gene frequencies are consistent with outcomes of trait‐mediated community assembly processes.

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  5. Abstract

    Interactions between soil nitrogen (N) availability, fungal community composition, and soil organic matter (SOM) regulate soil carbon (C) dynamics in many forest ecosystems, but context dependency in these relationships has precluded general predictive theory. We found that ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi with peroxidases decreased with increasing inorganic N availability across a natural inorganic N gradient in northern temperate forests, whereas ligninolytic fungal saprotrophs exhibited no response. Lignin‐derived SOM and soil C were negatively correlated with ECM fungi with peroxidases and were positively correlated with inorganic N availability, suggesting decay of lignin‐derived SOM by these ECM fungi reduced soil C storage. The correlations we observed link SOM decay in temperate forests to tradeoffs in tree N nutrition and ECM composition, and we propose SOM varies along a single continuum across temperate and boreal ecosystems depending upon how tree allocation to functionally distinct ECM taxa and environmental stress covary with soil N availability.

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