Fungi exposed to chronic nitrogen enrichment are less able to decay leaf litter


Saprotrophic fungi are the primary decomposers of plant litter in temperate forests, and their activity is critical for carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling. Simulated atmospheric N deposition is associated with reduced fungal biomass, shifts in fungal community structure, slowed litter decay, and soil C accumulation. Although rarely studied, N deposition may also result in novel selective pressures on fungi, affecting evolutionary trajectories. To directly test if long-term N enrichment reshapes fungal responses to N, we isolated decomposer fungi from a long-term (28 yr) N-addition experiment and used a common garden approach to compare growth rates and decay abilities of isolates from control and N-amended plots. Both growth and decay were significantly altered by long-term exposure to N enrichment. Changes in growth rates were idiosyncratic, as different species grew either more quickly or more slowly after exposure to N, but litter decay by N isolates was consistent and generally lower compared to control isolates of the same species, a response not readily reversed when N isolates were grown in control (low N) environments. Changes in fungal responses accompany and perhaps drive previously observed N-induced shifts in fungal diversity, community composition, and litter decay dynamics.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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© 2016 by the Ecological Society of America