The Role of Aquatic Fungi in Transformations of Organic Matter Mediated by Nutrients

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


  1. We assessed the key role of aquatic fungi in modifying coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) by affecting its breakdown rate, nutrient concentration and conversion to fine particulate organic matter (FPOM). Overall, we hypothesised that fungal‐mediated conditioning and breakdown of CPOM would be accelerated when nutrient concentrations are increased and tested the degree to which fungi were critical to CPOM processing and to FPOM production by an invertebrate consumer.
  2. We manipulated the presence and absence of fungi, exogenous nutrients [nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)] and an invertebrate consumer in a full‐factorial laboratory experiment and quantified their effects on CPOM mass loss and nutrient concentration, and the quantity and nutrient concentration of FPOM produced during leaf breakdown.
  3. Mass of CPOM lost and the quantity of FPOM produced were highest in nutrient‐enriched treatments containing fungal decomposers. Across all treatments, FPOM produced was a constant proportion of CPOM lost (67%). Loss of CPOM due to shredders was highest at fungal biomass values >16 mg g dry mass−1, which occurred with nutrient enrichment.
  4. Nitrogen concentration in CPOM increased in treatments with nutrients and fungi, while CPOM P concentration was primarily affected by nutrients. In contrast, FPOM P concentration declined in treatments with fungi and nutrients, suggesting either sequestration via CPOM‐associated fungi or preferential assimilation by shredders. Nitrogen in FPOM increased with nutrients, but was unaffected by fungi.
  5. Our results indicate that aquatic fungi play a critical role in facilitating energy and nutrient flow through detrital pathways and that their ability to mediate organic matter transformations is significantly influenced by nutrient enrichment.

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Freshwater Biology





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