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Oecologia. 2004 Mar;139(1):98-107. Epub 2004 Jan 22.

Decomposition rate of organic substrates in relation to the species diversity of soil saprophytic fungi.

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Department of Ecological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Niemenkatu 73, 15140 Lahti, Finland.


Despite the great interest concerning the relationship between species diversity and ecosystem functioning, there is virtually no knowledge as to how the diversity of decomposer microbes influences the decomposition rate of soil organic matter. We established a microcosm study in which the number of soil fungi was investigated in relation to the system's ability to (i) degrade raw coniferous forest humus, and (ii) use resources that were either added to the systems or released into the soils after a disturbance (drought). With the exception of the most diverse treatment, in each of the six replicates of each of the six diversity treatments (1, 3, 6, 12, 24 or 43 taxa), fungal taxa were randomly chosen from a pool of 43 commonly isolated fungal species of raw humus. Two months after initiation of the study CO2 production increased as fungal diversity increased, but in the species-poor end of the diversity gradient only. Addition of various energy resources to the microcosms generally increased the level of soil respiration but did not affect the shape of the diversity-CO2-production curve. Rewetting the soil after severe drought resulted in a rapid flush of CO2, particularly in the most diverse communities. The biomass of the fungi in the non-disturbed soils, and soil NH4-N concentration and soil pH in both disturbed and non-disturbed systems were slightly but significantly higher in the diverse than in the simple systems. Fungal species richness had no influence on the organic matter content of the humus at the end of the experiment. The results suggest that the functional efficiency of fungal communities can increase with the number of fungal taxa. This diversity effect was, however, significant at the species-poor end of the diversity gradient only, which implies considerable functional equivalency (redundancy) among the decomposer fungi.

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