Fungal decomposition of soil organic matter depends on soil nitrogen (N) availability. This ecosystem process is being jeopardized by changes in N inputs that have resulted from a tripling of atmospheric N deposition in the last century. Soil fungi are impacted by atmospheric N deposition due to higher N availability, as soils are acidified, or as micronutrients become increasingly limiting. Fungal communities that persist with chronic N deposition may be enriched with traits that enable them to tolerate environmental stress, which may trade-off with traits enabling organic matter decomposition. We hypothesized that fungal communities would respond to N deposition by shifting community composition and functional gene abundances toward those that tolerate stress but are weak decomposers. We sampled soils at seven eastern US hardwood forests where ambient N deposition varied from 3.2 to 12.6 kg N ha−1 year−1, five of which also have experimental plots where atmospheric N deposition was simulated through fertilizer application treatments (25–50 kg N ha−1 year−1). Fungal community and functional responses to fertilizer varied across the ambient N deposition gradient. Fungal biomass and richness increased with simulated N deposition at sites with low ambient deposition and decreased at sites with high ambient deposition. Fungal functional genes involved in hydrolysis of organic matter increased with ambient N deposition while genes involved in oxidation of organic matter decreased. One of four genes involved in generalized abiotic stress tolerance increased with ambient N deposition. In summary, we found that the divergent response to simulated N deposition depended on ambient N deposition levels. Fungal biomass, richness, and oxidative enzyme potential were reduced by N deposition where ambient N deposition was high suggesting fungal communities were pushed beyond an environmental stress threshold. Fungal community structure and function responses to N enrichment depended on ambient N deposition at a regional scale.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Global Change Biology



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This is a Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Wiley in Global Change Biology in X, the Version of Record is available online: