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Ecology. 2011 Jun;92(6):1292-302.

Importance of dispersal and thermal environment for mycorrhizal communities: lessons from Yellowstone National Park.

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  • 1Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59717, USA.


The relative importance of dispersal and niche restrictions remains a controversial topic in community ecology, especially for microorganisms that are often assumed to be ubiquitous. We investigated the impact of these factors for the community assembly of the root-symbiont arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) by sampling roots from geothermal and nonthermal grasslands in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), followed by sequencing and RFLP of AMF ribosomal DNA. With the exception of an apparent generalist RFLP type closely related to Glomus intraradices, a distance-based redundancy analysis indicated that the AMF community composition correlated with soil pH or pH-driven changes in soil chemistry. This was unexpected, given the large differences in soil temperature and plant community composition between the geothermal and nonthermal grasslands. RFLP types were found in either the acidic geothermal grasslands or in the neutral to alkaline grasslands, one of which was geothermal. The direct effect of the soil chemical environment on the distribution of two AMF morphospecies isolated from acidic geothermal grasslands was supported in a controlled greenhouse experiment. Paraglomus occultum and Scutellospora pellucida were more beneficial to plants and formed significantly more spores when grown in acidic than in alkaline soil. Distance among grasslands, used as an estimate of dispersal limitations, was not a significant predictor of AMF community similarity within YNP, and most fungal taxa may be part of a metacommunity. The isolation of several viable AMF taxa from bison feces indicates that wide-ranging bison could be a vector for at least some RFLP types among grasslands within YNP. In support of classical niche theory and the Baas-Becking hypothesis, our results suggest that AMF are not limited by dispersal at the scale of YNP, but that the soil environment appears to be the primary factor affecting community composition and distribution.

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