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Shrub range expansion alters diversity and distribution of soil fungal communities across an alpine elevation gradient.


Global climate and land use change are altering plant and soil microbial communities worldwide, particularly in arctic and alpine biomes where warming is accelerated. The widespread expansion of woody shrubs into historically herbaceous alpine plant zones is likely to interact with climate to affect soil microbial community structure and function; however, our understanding of alpine soil ecology remains limited. This study aimed to (i) determine whether the diversity and community composition of soil fungi vary across elevation gradients and to (ii) assess the impact of woody shrub expansion on these patterns. In the White Mountains of California, sagebrush (Artemisia rothrockii) shrubs have been expanding upwards into alpine areas since 1960. In this study, we combined observational field data with a manipulative shrub removal experiment along an elevation transect of alpine shrub expansion. We utilized next-generation sequencing of the ITS1 region for fungi and joint distribution modelling to tease apart effects of the environment and intracommunity interactions on soil fungi. We found that soil fungal diversity declines and community composition changes with increasing elevation. Both abiotic factors (primarily soil moisture and soil organic C) and woody sagebrush range expansion had significant effects on these patterns. However, fungal diversity and relative abundance had high spatial variation, overwhelming the predictive power of vegetation type, elevation and abiotic soil conditions at the landscape scale. Finally, we observed positive and negative associations among fungal taxa which may be important in structuring community responses to global change.

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