Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Fungi are mediators of the nitrogen and carbon cycles in terrestrial ecosystems. Examining how nitrogen uptake and organic matter decomposition potential differs in fungi can provide insight into the underlying mechanisms driving fungal ecological processes and ecosystem functioning. In this study, we assessed the frequency of genes encoding for specific enzymes that facilitate nitrogen uptake and organic matter decomposition in 879 fungal genomes with fungal taxa grouped into trait-based categories. Our linked gene-trait data approach revealed that gene frequencies vary across and within trait-based groups and that trait-based categories differ in trait space. We present two examples of how this linked gene-trait approach can be used to address ecological questions. First, we show that this type of approach can help us better understand, and potentially predict, how fungi will respond to environmental stress. Specifically, we found that trait-based categories with high nitrogen uptake gene frequency increased in relative abundance when exposed to high soil nitrogen enrichment. Second, by comparing frequencies of nitrogen uptake and organic matter decomposition genes, we found that most ectomycorrhizal fungi in our dataset have similar gene frequencies to brown rot fungi. This demonstrates that gene-trait data approaches can shed light on potential evolutionary trajectories of life history traits in fungi. We present a framework for exploring nitrogen uptake and organic matter decomposition gene frequencies in fungal trait-based groups and provide two concise examples on how to use our framework to address ecological questions from a mechanistic perspective.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Microbial Ecology



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This is an open access article published by Springer in Microbial Ecology in 2021, available online: