Tropical tree ectomycorrhiza are distributed independently of soil nutrients

Mycorrhizae, a form of plant–fungal symbioses, mediate vegetation impacts on ecosystem functioning. Climatic effects on decomposition and soil quality are suggested to drive mycorrhizal distributions, with arbuscular mycorrhizal plants prevailing in low-latitude/high-soil-quality areas and ectomycorrhizal (EcM) plants in high-latitude/low-soil-quality areas. However, these generalizations, based on coarse-resolution data, obscure finer-scale variations and result in high uncertainties in the predicted distributions of mycorrhizal types and their drivers. Using data from 31 lowland tropical forests, both at a coarse scale (mean-plot-level data) and fine scale (20 × 20 metres from a subset of 16 sites), we demonstrate that the distribution and abundance of EcM-associated trees are independent of soil quality. Resource exchange differences among mycorrhizal partners, stemming from diverse evolutionary origins of mycorrhizal fungi, may decouple soil fertility from the advantage provided by mycorrhizal associations. Additionally, distinct historical biogeographies and diversification patterns have led to differences in forest composition and nutrient-acquisition strategies across three major tropical regions. Notably, Africa and Asia’s lowland tropical forests have abundant EcM trees, whereas they are relatively scarce in lowland neotropical forests. A greater understanding of the functional biology of mycorrhizal symbiosis is required, especially in the lowland tropics, to overcome biases from assuming similarity to temperate and boreal regions.

José A. Medina-Vega, Daniel Zuleta, Salomón Aguilar, Alfonso Alonso, Pulchérie Bissiengou, Warren Y. Brockelman, Sarayudh Bunyavejchewin, David F. R. P. Burslem, Nicolás Castaño, Jérôme Chave, James W. Dalling, Alexandre A. de Oliveira, Álvaro Duque, Sisira Ediriweera, Corneille E. N. Ewango, Jonah Filip, Stephen P. Hubbell, Akira Itoh, Somboon Kiratiprayoon, Shawn K. Y. Lum, Jean-Remy Makana, Hervé Memiaghe, David Mitre, Mohizah Bt. Mohamad, Anuttara Nathalang, Reuben Nilus, Nsalambi V. Nkongolo, Vojtech Novotny, Michael J. O’Brien, Rolando Pérez, Nantachai Pongpattananurak, Glen Reynolds, Sabrina E. Russo, Sylvester Tan, Jill Thompson, María Uriarte, Renato Valencia, Alberto Vicentini, Tze Leong Yao, Jess K. Zimmerman & Stuart J. Davies
Nature Ecology & Evolution