Ectomycorrhizal fungi increase soil carbon storage: molecular signatures of mycorrhizal competition driving soil C storage at global scale

Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 11:50
2008 (Moscone West)
Colin Averill1, Brianna K Barry1 and Christine Hawkes2, (1)University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States, (2)University of Texas at Austin, Integrative Biology, Austin, TX, United States
Soil carbon storage and decay is regulated by the activity of free-living decomposer microbes, which can be limited by nitrogen availability. Many plants associate with symbiotic ectomycorrhizal fungi on their roots, which produce nitrogen-degrading enzymes and may be able to compete with free-living decomposers for soil organic nitrogen. By doing so, ectomycorrhizal fungi may able to induce nitrogen limitation and reduce activity of free-living microbial decomposition by mining soil organic nitrogen. The implication is that ectomycorrhizal-dominated systems should have increased soil carbon storage relative to non-ectomycorrhizal systems, which has been confirmed at a global scale. To investigate these effects, we analyzed 364 globally distributed observations of soil fungal communities using 454 sequencing of the ITS region, along with soil C and N concentrations, climate and chemical data. We assigned operational taxonomic units using the QIIME pipeline and UNITE fungal database and assigned fungal reads as ectomycorrhizal or non-mycorrhizal based on current taxonomic knowledge. We tested for associations between ectomycorrhizal abundance, climate, and soil carbon and nitrogen. Sites with greater soil carbon had quantitatively more ectomycorrhizal fungi within the soil microbial community based on fungal sequence abundance, after accounting for soil nitrogen availability. This is consistent with our hypothesis that ectomycorrhizal fungi induce nitrogen-limitation of free-living decomposers and thereby increase soil carbon storage. The strength of the mycorrhizal effect increased non-linearly with ectomycorrhizal abundance: the greater the abundance, the greater the effect size. Mean annual temperature, potential evapotranspiration, soil moisture and soil pH were also significant predictors in the final AIC selected model. This analysis suggests that molecular data on soil microbial communities can be used to make quantitative biogeochemical predictions. The signature of ectomycorrhizal competition for nitrogen is present at global scale, and quantitative, which may allow future soil carbon models to incorporate changes in the relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi in predicting carbon storage.