Species associations overwhelm abiotic conditions to dictate the structure and function of wood-decay fungal communities


Environmental conditions exert strong controls on the activity of saprotrophic microbes, yet abiotic factors often fail to adequately predict wood decomposition rates across broad spatial scales. Given that species interactions can have significant positive and negative effects on wood-decay fungal activity, one possibility is that biotic processes serve as the primary controls on community function, with abiotic controls emerging only after species associations are accounted for. Here we explore this hypothesis in a factorial field warming- and nitrogen-addition experiment by examining relationships among wood decomposition rates, fungal activity, and fungal community structure. We show that functional outcomes and community structure are largely unrelated to abiotic conditions, with microsite and plot-level abiotic variables explaining at most 19% of the total variability in decomposition and fungal activity, and 2% of the variability in richness and evenness. In contrast, taxonomic richness, evenness, and species associations (i.e., co-occurrence patterns) exhibited strong relationships with community function, accounting for 52% of the variation in decomposition rates and 73% in fungal activity. A greater proportion of positive vs. negative species associations in a community was linked to strong declines in decomposition rates and richness. Evenness emerged as a key mediator between richness and function, with highly even communities exhibiting a positive richness–function relationship and uneven communities exhibiting a negative or null response. These results suggest that community-assembly processes and species interactions are important controls on the function of wood-decay fungal communities, ultimately overwhelming substantial differences in abiotic conditions.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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© 2018 by the Ecological Society of America