A trait-based understanding of wood decomposition by fungi
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
As the primary decomposers of organic material in terrestrial ecosystems, fungi are critical agents of the global carbon cycle. Yet our ability to link fungal community composition to ecosystem functioning is constrained by a limited understanding of the factors accounting for different wood decomposition rates among fungi. Here we examine which traits best explain fungal decomposition ability by combining detailed trait-based assays on 34 saprotrophic fungi from across North America in the laboratory with a 5-y field study comprising 1,582 fungi isolated from 74 decomposing logs. Fungal growth rate (hyphal extension rate) was the strongest single predictor of fungal-mediated wood decomposition rate under laboratory conditions, and accounted for up to 27% of the in situ variation in decomposition in the field. At the individual level, decomposition rate was negatively correlated with moisture niche width (an indicator of drought stress tolerance) and with the production of nutrient-mineralizing extracellular enzymes. Together, these results suggest that decomposition rates strongly align with a dominance-tolerance life-history tradeoff that was previously identified in these isolates, forming a spectrum from slow-growing, stress-tolerant fungi that are poor decomposers to fast-growing, highly competitive fungi with fast decomposition rates. Our study illustrates how an understanding of fungal trait variation could improve our predictive ability of the early and midstages of wood decay, to which our findings are most applicable. By mapping our results onto the biogeographic distribution of the dominance-tolerance trade-off across North America, we approximate broad-scale patterns in intrinsic fungal-mediatedwood decomposition rates.
Lustenhouwer, Nicky; Maynard, Daniel S.; Bradford, Mark A.; Lindner, Daniel L.; Oberle, Brad; Zanne, Amy E.; Crowther, Thomas W. 2020. A trait-based understanding of wood decomposition by fungi. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117(21): 11551-11558. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1909166117.