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Soil fungal community richness and diversity are highest in arid environments along a climatic space-for-time substitution

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

A large part of ecosystem function in woodland systems depends on soil fungal communities. However, global climate change has the potential to fundamentally alter these communities as fungal species are filtered with changing environmental conditions. In this study, we examined the potential effects of climate on host-associated (i.e. tree-associated) soil fungal communities at climatically distinct sites in the Tehachapi Mountains in California, where more arid conditions represent likely regional climate futures. We found that soil fungal community composition changes strongly across sites, with species richness and diversity being highest at the most arid site. However, host association may buffer the effects of climate on community composition, as host-associated fungal communities are more similar to each other along the climatic gradient than the whole fungal community. Lastly, an examination of functional traits for ectomycorrhizae, a well-studied guild of fungal mutualist species, showed that stress-tolerant traits were more abundant at arid sites than mesic sites, providing a mechanistic understanding of these community patterns. Taken together, our results indicate that fungal community composition will likely shift with future climate change but that host association may buffer these effects, with shifts in functional traits having implications for future ecosystem function.

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