Ecological responses to forest age, habitat, and host vary by mycorrhizal type in boreal peatlands.
Kennedy Peter G, Mielke Louis A, Nguyen Nhu H
Despite covering vast areas of boreal North America, the ecological factors structuring mycorrhizal fungal communities in peatland forests are relatively poorly understood. To assess how these communities vary by age (younger vs. mature), habitat (fen vs. bog), and host (conifer trees vs. ericaceous shrub), we sampled the roots of two canopy trees (Larix laricina and Picea mariana) and an ericaceous shrub (Ledum groenlandicum) at four sites in northern Minnesota, USA. To characterize the specific influence of host co-occurrence on mycorrhizal fungal community structure, we also conducted a greenhouse bioassay using the same three hosts. Root samples were assessed using Illumina-based high-throughput sequencing (HTS) of the ITS1 rRNA gene region. As expected, we found that the relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi was high on both Larix and Picea, whereas ericoid mycorrhizal fungi had high relative abundance only on Ledum. Ericoid mycorrhizal fungal richness was significantly higher in mature forests, in bogs, and on Ledum hosts, while ectomycorrhizal fungal richness did not differ significantly across any of these three variables. In terms of community composition, ericoid mycorrhizal fungi were more strongly influenced by host while ectomycorrhizal fungi were more influenced by habitat. In the greenhouse bioassay, the presence of Ledum had consistently stronger effects on the composition of ectomycorrhizal, ericoid, and ericoid-ectomycorrhizal fungal communities than either Larix or Picea. Collectively, these results suggest that partitioning HTS-based datasets by mycorrhizal type in boreal peatland forests is important, as their responses to rapidly changing environmental conditions are not likely to be uniform.