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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Fungal-fungal and fungal-bacterial interactions in aquatic decomposer communities: bacteria promote fungal diversity

Baudy, Patrick; Zubrod, Jochen P.; Konschak, Marco; Kolbenschlag, Sara; Pollitt, Annika; Baschien, Christiane; Schulz, Ralf; Bundschuh, Mirco


Fungi produce a variety of extracellular enzymes, making recalcitrant substrates bioavailable. Thus, fungi are central for the decomposition of dead organic matter such as leaf litter. Despite their ecological importance, our understanding of relationships between fungal species diversity and ecosystem functioning is limited, especially with regard to aquatic habitats. Moreover, fungal interactions with other groups of microorganisms such as bacteria are rarely investigated. This lack of information may be attributed to methodological limitations in tracking the biomass of individual fungal species in communities, impeding a detailed assessment of deviations from the overall performance expected from the sum of individual species' performances, so-called net diversity effects (NDEs). We used fungal species-specific biomolecular tools to target fungal-fungal and fungal-bacterial interactions on submerged leaves using four cosmopolitan aquatic fungal species and a stream microbial community dominated by bacteria. In microcosms, we experimentally manipulated fungal diversity and bacterial absence/presence and assessed functional performances and fungal community composition after 14 d of incubation. Fungal community data were used to evaluate NDEs on leaf colonization. The individual fungal species were functionally distinct and fungal cultures were on average more efficient than the bacterial culture. In absence of bacteria, NDEs correlated with growth rate (negatively) and genetic divergence (positively), but were predominantly negative, suggesting that higher fungal diversity led to a lower colonization success (niche overlap). In both absence and presence of bacteria, the overall functional performances of the communities were largely defined by their composition (i.e., no interactions at the functional level). In the presence of bacteria, NDEs correlated with genetic divergence (positively) and were largely positive, suggesting higher fungal diversity stimulated colonization (niche complementarity). This stimulation may be driven by a bacteria-induced inhibition of fungal growth, alleviating competition among fungi. Resulting feedback loops eventually promote fungal coexistence and synergistic interactions. Nonetheless, overall functional performances are reduced compared to bacteria-free cultures. These findings highlight the necessity to conduct future studies, investigating biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships using artificial systems, without exclusion of key organisms naturally co-occurring in the compartment of interest. Otherwise, study outcomes might not reflect true ecological relationships and ultimately misguide conservation strategies.


antagonism; biodiversity-ecosystem functioning; cellulolytic enzymes; community composition; complementarity; diversity effects; fungal interactions; fungal-bacterial interactions; ligninolytic enzymes; microbial decomposers; saprotrophs; traits

Published in

2021, volume: 102, number: 10, article number: e03471
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Baudy, Patrick
University of Koblenz and Landau
Zubrod, Jochen P.
University of Koblenz and Landau
Konschak, Marco
University of Koblenz and Landau
Kolbenschlag, Sara
University of Koblenz and Landau
Pollitt, Annika
University of Koblenz and Landau
Baschien, Christiane
Leibniz Institut fur Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen (DSMZ)
Schulz, Ralf
University of Koblenz and Landau
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
University of Koblenz-Landau

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