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Season-Long Experimental Drought Alters Fungal Community Composition but Not Diversity in a Grassland Soil

Schmidt, Philipp-André, Schmitt, Imke, Otte, Jürgen, Bandow, Cornelia, Römbke, Jörg, Bálint, Miklós, Rolshausen, Gregor
Microbial ecology 2018 v.75 no.2 pp. 468-478
acclimation, community structure, drought, ecosystems, fungal communities, grassland soils, grasslands, models, soil fungi, soil water, water content, water holding capacity
Using terrestrial model ecosystems (TMEs), we investigated how reduced moisture conditions impact soil fungal communities from a temperate grassland over the course of an entire season. Starting at about 65% of the soil’s maximum water holding capacity (WHCₘₐₓ), TME soils were adjusted to three moisture levels for 15 weeks: 70% WHCₘₐₓ, approximating starting conditions, 50% WHCₘₐₓ, and 30% WHCₘₐₓ, representing reduced moisture conditions. Diversity and abundances of soil fungi at the start and at the end of the experiment were characterized using Illumina meta-barcoding. Community diversity at the end of the experiment did not differ between experimental moisture levels and was comparable to diversity measures from the field. However, fungal communities did change compositionally in both abundances and presence/absence of species. Analyzing class-level and individual contributions of fungi to these changes revealed that only a minor portion reacted significantly, indicating that most compositional change was likely driven by many consistent small-scale shifts in presence/absences or abundances. Together, our results show that prolonged reduction in soil moisture conditions will trigger compositional changes in soil fungal communities but not necessarily change overall diversity. We highlight the cumulative contribution of minor but consistent changes among community members, as opposed to significant responses of individual species. We also detected a strong general experimental effect on soil fungi that are moved from the field to experimental TMEs, suggesting the importance of acclimatization effects in these communities under laboratory conditions.