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  1. Abstract

    Future climates will alter the frequency and size of rain events in drylands, potentially affecting soil microbes that generate carbon feedbacks to climate, but field tests are rare. Topsoils in drylands are commonly colonized by biological soil crusts (biocrusts), photosynthesis‐based communities that provide services ranging from soil fertilization to stabilization against erosion. We quantified responses of biocrust microbial communities to 12 years of altered rainfall regimes, with 60 mm of additional rain per year delivered either as small (5 mm) weekly rains or large (20 mm) monthly rains during the summer monsoon season. Rain addition promoted microbial diversity, suppressed the dominant cyanobacterium,Microcoleus vaginatus, and enhanced nitrogen‐fixing taxa, but did not consistently increase microbial biomass. The addition of many small rain events increased microbial biomass, whereas few, large events did not. These results alter the physiological paradigm that biocrusts are most limited by the amount of rainfall and instead predict that regimes enriched in small rain events will boost cyanobacterial biocrusts and enhance their beneficial services to drylands.

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  2. Abstract

    Interactions between plants and soil microbes influence plant nutrient transformations, including nitrogen (N) fixation, nutrient mineralization, and resource exchanges through fungal networks. Physical disturbances to soils can disrupt soil microbes and associated processes that support plant and microbial productivity. In low resource drylands, biological soil crusts (“biocrusts”) occupy surface soils and house key autotrophic and diazotrophic bacteria, non‐vascular plants, or lichens. Interactions among biocrusts, plants, and fungal networks between them are hypothesized to drive carbon and nutrient dynamics; however, comparisons across ecosystems are needed to generalize how soil disturbances alter microbial communities and their contributions to N pools and transformations. To evaluate linkages among plants, fungi, and biocrusts, we disturbed all unvegetated surfaces with human foot trampling twice yearly from 2013–2019 in dry conditions in cyanobacteria‐dominated biocrusts in the Chihuahuan Desert grassland and shrubland ecosystems. After 5 years, disturbance decreased the abundances of cyanobacteria (especiallyMicrocoleus steenstrupiiclade) and N‐fixers (Scytonemasp., andSchizothrixsp.) by >77% and chlorophyllaby up to 55% but, conversely, increased soil fungal abundance by 50% compared with controls. Responses of root‐associated fungi differed between the two dominant plant species and ecosystem types, with a maximum of 80% more aseptate hyphae in disturbed than in control plots. Although disturbance did not affect15N tracer transfer from biocrusts to the dominant grass,Bouteloua eriopoda, disturbance increased available soil N by 65% in the shrubland, and decreased leaf N ofB. eriopodaby up to 16%, suggesting that, although rapid N transfer during peak production was not affected by disturbance, over the long‐term plant nutrient content was disrupted. Altogether, the shrubland may be more resilient to detrimental changes due to disturbance than grassland, and these results demonstrated that disturbances to soil microbial communities have the potential to cause substantial changes in N pools by reducing and reordering biocrust taxa.

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  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  4. Aim: Roots and rhizospheres host diverse microbial communities that can influence the fitness, phenotypes, and environmental tolerances of host plants. Documenting the biogeography of microbiomes can detect the potential for a changing environment to disrupt host-microbe interactions, particularly in cases where microbes, such as root-associated Ascomycota, buffer hosts against abiotic stressors. We evaluated whether root-associated fungi had poleward declines in diversity as occur for many animals and plants, tested whether microbial communities shifted near host plant range edges, and determined the relative importance of latitude, climate, edaphic factors, and host plant traits as predictors of fungal community structure. Location: North American plains grasslands Taxon: Foundation North American grass species ⎯ Andropogon gerardii, Bouteloua eriopoda, B. gracilis, B. dactyloides, and Schizachyrium scoparium and their root-associated fungi Methods: At each of 24 sites representing three replicate latitudinal gradients spanning 17° latitude, we collected roots from 12 individual plants per species along five transects spaced 10 m apart (40 m × 40 m grid). We used next-generation sequencing of the fungal ITS2 region, direct fungal culturing from roots, and microscopy to survey fungi associated with grass roots. Results: Root-associated fungi did not follow the poleward declines in diversity documented for many animals and plants. Instead, host plant identity had the largest influence on fungal community structure. Edaphic factors outranked climate or host plant traits as correlates of fungal community structure; however, the relative importance of these environmental predictors differed among plant species. As sampling approached host species range edges, fungal composition converged among individual plants of each grass species. Main conclusions: Environmental predictors of root-associated fungi depended strongly on host plant species identity. Biogeographic patterns in fungal composition suggested a homogenizing influence of stressors at host plant range limits. Results predict that communities of non-mycorrhizal, root-associated fungi in the North American plains will be more sensitive to future changes in host plant ranges and edaphic factors than to the direct effects of climate. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Interactions between plants and microbes have important influences on evolutionary processes, population dynamics, community structure, and ecosystem function. We review the literature to document how climate change may disrupt these ecological interactions and develop a conceptual framework to integrate the pathways of plant-microbe responses to climate over different scales in space and time. We then create a blueprint to aid generalization that categorizes climate effects into changes in the context dependency of plant-microbe pairs, temporal mismatches and altered feedbacks over time, or spatial mismatches that accompany species range shifts. We pair a new graphical model of how plant-microbe interactions influence resistance to climate change with a statistical approach to predictthe consequences of increasing variability in climate. Finally, we suggest pathways through which plant-microbe interactions can affect resilience during recovery from climate disruption. Throughout, we take a forward-looking perspective, highlighting knowledge gaps and directions for future research. 
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  6. Vries, Franciska (Ed.)
  7. Plant-associated fungi can ameliorate abiotic stress in their hosts, and changes in these fungal communities can alter plant productivity, species interactions, community structure and ecosystem processes. We investigated the response of root-associated fungi to experimental drought (66% reduction in growing season precipitation) across six North American grassland ecosystem types to determine how extreme drought alters root-associated fungi, and understand what abiotic factors influence root fungal community composition across grassland ecosystems. Next generation sequencing of the fungal ITS2 region demonstrated that drought primarily re-ordered fungal species’ relative abundances within host plant species, with different fungal responses depending on host identity. Grass species that declined more under drought trended toward less community re-ordering of root fungi than species less sensitive to drought. Host identity and grassland ecosystem type defined the magnitude of drought effects on community composition, diversity, and root colonization, and the most important factor affecting fungal composition was plant species identity. 
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