Fungi play critical roles in ecosystem processes such as decomposition and nutrient cycling, but have also been highlighted as significant contributors to organic matter build-up in boreal forest soils. Ectomycorrhizal (ECM) mycelial biomass and necromass dynamics have recently been highlighted as essential for regulating build-up of soil organic matter. Understanding the extent to which shifts in mycelial community or growth trait composition cause changes in mycelial production and turnover over ecological gradients would aid a mechanistic understanding of these important processes at an ecosystem scale. Here, we test the hypotheses that shifting species and mycelial trait (exploration type) composition within the mycelial community underpin changes in biomass turnover with increasing forest age. We quantified mycelial turnover and assessed fungal community composition in a chronosequence of eight, 12- to 158-year-old, managed Pinus sylvestris forests. Turnover was estimated by determining mycelial biomass (ergosterol) in a sequence of ingrowth mesh bags and applying mathematical models. Fungal communities in the bags were identified using Pacific Biosciences sequencing of fungal ITS2 amplicons. To evaluate the accuracy of this method to represent all ECM fungi, community composition in bags was followed over time and compared with communities in soil. Mycelial communities changed with stand age, but we found no evidence that there were concurrent shifts in mycelial exploration types. Forest age and turnover were significantly correlated with ECM mycelial community composition and collectively explained 39.4% of total variation. The similarity between fungal communities in mesh bags and in soil was strongly forest age dependent, with communities in mesh bags diverging from soil communities in stands older than 60 years. However, in all stands, when bag incubation time exceeded 75 days, communities became more similar to soil communities. Synthesis. Our results support the idea that shifts in fungal community composition underpin the forest age-related decrease in mycelial turnover; however, since ingrowth mesh bags exclude some mycorrhizal species in older forests, it remains a possibility that turnover estimates were not reflecting the entire community. While we found no evidence that mycelial exploration types of fungi changed systematically with forest age, we suggest that other traits that relate to biomass turnover and necromass degradation require further study, as they may explain the extent to which ectomycorrhizal fungi regulate and contribute to soil organic matter accumulation.
Journal: Journal of ecology