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Strong succession in arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities


The ecology of fungi lags behind that of plants and animals because most fungi are microscopic and hidden in their substrates. Here, we address the basic ecological process of fungal succession in nature using the microscopic, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) that form essential mutualisms with 70-90% of plants. We find a signal for temporal change in AMF community similarity that is 40-fold stronger than seen in the most recent studies, likely due to weekly samplings of roots, rhizosphere and soil throughout the 17 weeks from seedling to fruit maturity and the use of the fungal DNA barcode to recognize species in a simple, agricultural environment. We demonstrate the patterns of nestedness and turnover and the microbial equivalents of the processes of immigration and extinction, that is, appearance and disappearance. We also provide the first evidence that AMF species co-exist rather than simply co-occur by demonstrating negative, density-dependent population growth for multiple species. Our study shows the advantages of using fungi to test basic ecological hypotheses (e.g., nestedness v. turnover, immigration v. extinction, and coexistence theory) over periods as short as one season.

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