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Cover cropping and no-till increase diversity and symbiotroph:saprotroph ratios of soil fungal communities

  • Author(s): Schmidt, R;
  • Mitchell, J;
  • Scow, K
  • et al.

Fungi are important members of soil microbial communities in row-crop and grassland soils, provide essential ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, organic matter decomposition, and soil structure, but fungi are also more sensitive to physical disturbance than other microorganisms. Adoption of conservation management practices such as no-till and cover cropping shape the structure and function of soil fungal communities. No-till eliminates or greatly reduces the physical disturbance that re-distributes organisms and nutrients in the soil profile and disrupts fungal hyphal networks, while cover crops provide additional types and greater abundance of organic carbon sources. In a long-term, row crop field experiment in California's Central Valley we hypothesized that a more diverse and plant symbiont-enriched fungal soil community would develop in soil managed with reduced tillage practices and/or cover crops compared to standard tillage and no cover crops. We measured the interacting effects of tillage and cover cropping on fungal communities based on fungal ITS sequence assigned to ecological guilds. Functional groups within fungal communities were most sensitive to long-term tillage practices, with 45% of guild-assigned taxa responding to tillage, and a higher proportion of symbiotroph taxa under no-till. In contrast, diversity measures reflected greater sensitivity to cover crops, with higher phylogenetic diversity observed in soils managed with cover crops, though only 10% of guild-assigned taxa responded to cover crops. The relative abundance of pathotrophs did not vary across the management treatments. Cover cropping increased species diversity, while no-till shifted the symbiotroph:saprotroph ratio to favor symbiotrophs. These management-induced shifts in fungal community composition could lead to greater ecosystem resilience and provide greater access of crops to limiting resources.

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