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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Ericoid shrubs shape fungal communities and suppress organic matter decomposition in boreal forests

Fanin, Nicolas; Clemmensen, Karina E.; Lindahl, Bjoern D.; Farrell, Mark; Nilsson, Marie-Charlotte; Gundale, Michael J.; Kardol, Paul; Wardle, David A.


Mycorrhizal fungi associated with boreal trees and ericaceous shrubs are central actors in organic matter (OM) accumulation through their belowground carbon allocation, their potential capacity to mine organic matter for nitrogen (N) and their ability to suppress saprotrophs. Yet, interactions between co-occurring ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF), ericoid mycorrhizal fungi (ERI), and saprotrophs are poorly understood. We used a long-term (19 yr) plant functional group manipulation experiment with removals of tree roots, ericaceous shrubs and mosses and analysed the responses of different fungal guilds (assessed by metabarcoding) and their interactions in relation to OM quality (assessed by mid-infrared spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance) and decomposition (litter mesh-bags) across a 5000-yr post-fire boreal forest chronosequence. We found that the removal of ericaceous shrubs and associated ERI changed the composition of EMF communities, with larger effects occurring at earlier stages of the chronosequence. Removal of shrubs was associated with enhanced N availability, litter decomposition and enrichment of the recalcitrant OM fraction. We conclude that increasing abundance of slow-growing ericaceous shrubs and the associated fungi contributes to increasing nutrient limitation, impaired decomposition and progressive OM accumulation in boreal forests, particularly towards later successional stages. These results are indicative of the contrasting roles of EMF and ERI in regulating belowground OM storage.


ectomycorrhizal fungi; ericoid mycorrhizal fungi; forest understorey; fungal interactions; nutrient cycling; plant-soil (belowground) interactions; saprotrophs; soil organic matter

Published in

New Phytologist
2022, Volume: 236, number: 2, pages: 684-697 Publisher: WILEY