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Hierarchical neighbor effects on mycorrhizal community structure and function

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Theory predicts that neighboring communities can shape one another's composition and function, for example, through the exchange of member species. However, empirical tests of the directionality and strength of these effects are rare. We determined the effects of neighboring communities on one another through experimental manipulation of a plant-fungal model system. We first established distinct ectomycorrhizal fungal communities on Douglas-fir seedlings that were initially grown in three soil environments. We then transplanted seedlings and mycorrhizal communities in a fully factorial experiment designed to quantify the direction and strength of neighbor effects by focusing on changes in fungal community species composition and implications for seedling growth (a proxy for community function). We found that neighbor effects on the composition and function of adjacent communities follow a dominance hierarchy. Specifically, mycorrhizal communities established from soils collected in Douglas-fir plantations were both the least sensitive to neighbor effects, and exerted the strongest influence on their neighbors by driving convergence in neighbor community composition and increasing neighbor seedling vigor. These results demonstrate that asymmetric neighbor effects mediated by ecological history can determine both community composition and function.

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