Dancing with Douglas-fir: Determinism dominates fungal community assembly processes

  1. Fungal communities can influence the productivity, composition and survival of trees through cycling nutrients, providing resources and altering pathogens. Thus, shifts in fungal communities could impact forests by altering interactions between trees and their environments. Fungal community composition may be shaped by stochastic and deterministic processes such as dispersal limitation, environmental filtering and partner specificity between trees and fungi. For tree species with large geographical ranges, we expect fungal assembly processes to change with environmental variation across the range of the tree partner. Due to specificity between trees and symbiotic fungi, we expect deterministic to outweigh stochastic processes in root compared with soil fungi. As some tree species have exceptional longevity, we also expected tree age to influence fungal community assembly.
  2. We surveyed fungi in four stands of Pseudotsuga menziesii with tree ages up to 800 years along an 1,800 km transect. We sampled roots and soil around 12 P. menziesii in each stand, aged the trees, and sequenced fungal rDNA to determine composition and richness from which we calculated the relative role of deterministic and stochastic assembly processes. We used null models to evaluate the relative importance of deterministic variable and homogenizing selection, and stochastic dispersal limitation, drift and homogenizing dispersal in fungal community assembly.
  3. We detected 7,280 amplicon sequence variants with 5,270 associated with soil, 3,887 with roots and 1,877 found across both roots and soils. Deterministic processes dominated root and soil fungal communities at all sites except one where stochastic processes (i.e. dispersal limitation and drift) controlled root fungi. Despite the dominance of determinism in fungal community assembly, the proportion of processes differed by site. Assembly processes did not vary with tree age.
  4. Synthesis. Taken together, we suggest that the local environment, water limitation and partner-preference between trees and their associated fungi, influence fungal community composition across the range of P. menziesii. We conclude that while fungal communities occurring near P. menziesii are dominated by homogenizing selection, the role of neutral processes still has a minor influence on community assembly and may be important in spatially isolated communities and those with strong gradients of fungal diversity.
Joseph D. Birch, James A. Lutz, & Justine Karst
Journal of Ecology