Title

Functional Importance and Diversity of Fungi During Standing Grass Litter Decomposition

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2-1-2021

Department

Biological Sciences

School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Abstract

Although microbial participation in litter decomposition is widely known within terrestrial soils, the role and significance of microorganisms during the aerial standing litter phase of decomposition remains poorly investigated. We examined the fungi inhabiting standing leaf litter of Schizachyrium scoparium and Schizachyrium tenerum in a Longleaf Pine savanna ecosystem and estimated their contribution to litter decomposition. We identified fungal phylotypes associated with leaf litter and quantified leaf C mass loss, fungal biomass production, and microbial respiration during decomposition. These data were used to construct budgets estimating C flow into and through fungi. Significant losses in S. scoparium (55%) and S. tenerum (67%) leaf C mass were observed during standing decomposition along with concomitant increases in fungal biomass, which reached a maximum of 36 and 33 mgC/g detrital C, respectively. Cumulative fungal production during decomposition totaled 99 ± 6 mgC/g initial detrital C in S. scoparium and 73 ± 5 mgC/g initial detrital C in S. tenerum, indicating that 18 and 11% of the litter C was converted into fungal biomass, respectively. Corresponding estimates of cumulative fungal respiration totaled 106 ± 7 and 174 ± 11 mgC/g initial detrital C in S. scoparium and S. tenerum, respectively. Next generation sequencing identified several fungal phylotypes, with the majority of sequences belonging to the Ascomycota (Dothideomycetes) and Basidiomycota (Agaricomycetes). Fungal phylotypes were similar between litter species and changed over time, showing a successional pattern. These findings extend our understanding of fungal processes to standing litter in terrestrial ecosystems, and highlight the quantitative importance of fungi in C cycling processes.

Publication Title

Oecologia

Volume

195

Issue

2

First Page

499

Last Page

512

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