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Ecology. 2007 Mar;88(3):575-81.

The patchiness of epifoliar fungi in tropical forests: host range, host abundance, and environment.

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Environmental Studies, University of California, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA.

Erratum in

  • Ecology. 2007 Dec;88(12):3218.


Fungal symbioses affect the diversity, dynamics, and spatial patterns of trees in tropical forests. Their ecological importance is partly driven by their inherent patchiness. We used epifoliar fungi, a guild of common, benign, obligate, fungal symbionts of plants, as a model system to evaluate the relative importance of host phylogeny, host relative abundance, and microclimate on the three-dimensional distribution of plant-fungus symbioses. In parallel studies in rainforests in Panama and Australia, most epifoliar fungi were able to colonize several plant lineages but showed significant host preferences within the local plant community. More closely related plant species were not more likely to share fungal symbionts. Instead, fungal species were more likely to be shared by more abundant hosts, which supported a greater number and diversity of fungi. Environmental conditions strongly affected spatial distributions, with sites in the dark understory 2.5- to fourfold more likely to have epifoliar fungi than in the exposed forest canopy. In the understory, fungal incidence increased with canopy openness. Canopy trees supported only a subset of the fungal symbionts found in the understory, suggesting that adult trees are not reservoirs of these fungal symbionts for understory juveniles.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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