Independent roles of ectomycorrhizal and saprotrophic communities in soil organic matter decomposition

Journal Article

The relative roles of ectomycorrhizal (ECM) and saprotrophic communities in controlling the decomposition of soil organic matter remain unclear. We tested the hypothesis that ECM community structure and activity influences the breakdown of nutrient-rich biopolymers in soils, while saprotrophic communities primarily regulate the breakdown of carbon-rich biopolymers. To test this hypothesis, we used high-throughput techniques to measure ECM and saprotrophic community structure, soil resource availability, and extracellular enzyme activity in whole soils and on ECM root tips in a coastal pine forest. We found that ECM and saprotroph richness did not show spatial structure and did not co-vary with any soil resource. However, species richness of ECM fungi explained variation in the activity of enzymes targeting recalcitrant N sources (protease and peroxidase) in bulk soil. Activity of carbohydrate- and organic P- targeting enzymes (e.g. cellobiohydrolase, β-glucosidase, α-glucosidase, hemicellulases, N-acetyl-glucosaminidase, and acid phosphatase) was correlated with saprotroph community structure and soil resource abundance (total soil C, N, and moisture), both of which varied along the soil profile. These observations suggest independent roles of ECM fungi and saprotrophic fungi in the cycling of N-rich, C-rich, and P-rich molecules through soil organic matter. Enzymatic activity on ECM root tips taken from the same soil cores used for bulk enzyme analysis did not correlate with the activity of any enzyme measured in the bulk soil, suggesting that ECM contributions to larger-scale soil C and nutrient cycling may occur primarily via extramatrical hyphae outside the rhizosphere. © 2012.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Talbot, JM; Bruns, TD; Smith, DP; Branco, S; Glassman, SI; Erlandson, S; Vilgalys, R; Peay, KG

Published Date

  • 2013

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 57 /

Start / End Page

  • 282 - 291

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0038-0717

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.soilbio.2012.10.004