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Mycologia. 2005 Jul-Aug;97(4):762-9.

Spore dispersal of a resupinate ectomycorrhizal fungus, Tomentella sublilacina, via soil food webs.

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  • 1Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, 111 Koshland Hall, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Patterns of fungal spore dispersal affect gene flow, population structure and fungal community structure. Many Basidiomycota produce resupinate (crust-like) basidiocarps buried in the soil. Although spores are actively discharged, they often do not appear to be well positioned for aerial dispersal. We investigated the potential spore dispersal mechanisms of one exemplar of this growth form, Tomentella sublilacina. It is a widespread ectomycorrhizal fungus that sporulates in the soil organic horizon, can establish from the spore bank shortly after disturbance, but also can be a dominant species in mature forest stands. We investigated whether its spores could be dispersed via spore-based food webs. We examined external surfaces, gut contents and feces from arthropod fungivores (mites, springtails, millipedes, beetles, fly larvae) and arthropod and vertebrate predators (centipedes, salamanders) from on and around T. sublilacina sporocarps. Spore densities were high in the guts of many individuals from all fungivore groups. Centipede gut contents, centipede feces and salamander feces contained undigested invertebrate exoskeletons and many apparently intact spores. DAPI staining of spores from feces of fungivores indicated that 7-73% of spores contained intact nuclei, whereas spores from predators had lower percentages of intact nuclei. The spiny spores often were lodged on invertebrate exoskeletons. To test the viability of spores that had passed through invertebrate guts we used fecal droppings of the millipede Harpaphe haydeniana to successfully inoculate seedlings of Pinus muricata (Bishop pine). These results indicate the potential for T. sublilacina spore dispersal via invertebrates and their predators in soil food webs and might help to explain the widespread distribution of this species. It is likely that this is a general mechanism of dispersal for fungi producing resupinate sporocarps, indicating a need to develop a fuller understanding of the linkages of soil food webs and spore dispersal.

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