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Using next generation DNA sequencing to link soil fungal diversity to ecosystem function

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Linking fungal diversity to function

Researchers are studying fungal diversity to find out what it takes to sustain a healthy ecosystem in the face of climate change and deforestation.

Climate Change and Environment

Fungi are crucial to ecosystems: while some are nutrient recyclers that decompose plant debris, others are root colonisers that enhance nutrient and water uptake in plant root systems. Little is known, however, about the complexity and varied roles of different soil fungal communities, and how they are affected by environmental changes. The EU-funded project 'Using next generation DNA sequencing to link soil fungal diversity to ecosystem function' (MYCODIVERSITY) developed a fungal genetic database for downstream analyses. Since tree root-colonising fungi are essential to productive forest ecosystems, MYCODIVERSITY researchers used their genetic data to analyse fungal distributions in a Californian pine forest. While the distribution of root-colonising fungi around each tree did not differ, fungal community structure varied according to the age of the tree. In contrast, there was significant spatial diversity of nutrient-recycling fungi, suggesting that different environmental factors govern the population structure of fungi that play different roles. The researchers also found that environmental stresses like high ozone or pollutant exposure reduced the ability of fungi to recycle nutrients through plant litter decomposition. Understanding the potential consequences of climate change on fungal communities, such as that of high atmospheric ozone levels, is vital to help safeguard ecosystems. In addition, studying fungal diversity in different environments could inform particular conservation efforts, like those focused on re-establishing forests on degraded land.

Keywords

Fungal diversity, climate change, deforestation, fungi, nutrient recyclers, plant debris, root colonisers, water uptake, plant root systems, soil fungal communities, DNA sequencing, ecosystem function, tree root, forest ecosystems, pine forest

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