Mapping Fungal Biogeography

August 22, 2014

Understanding fungal biogeography, the distribution of fungi, bacteria, and viruses, is key to understanding how ecosystems function. A thorough understanding of the ecological linkages between communities, their environment, and ecosystem function requires analysis across multiple spatial or temporal scales. In a recent study, Talbot et al. (2014) explored the taxonomic and functional distributions of fungi at the continental scale, with findings that suggested that core ecological processes governing these communities work at different scales.  

Like animals and plants, many soil fungi are endemic to specific regions. This indicates that factors operating at large spatial scales, like dispersal limitation (the inability to disperse to specific regions) may be the first-order determinants of fungal community structure in nature. In contrast, there were very few correlations with environmental data, suggesting that microbial biogeography may, in fact, be structured by forces different than those affecting above ground biota. By contrast, extracellular enzyme activity in soil is highly convergent across bioregions: communities in similar regions function in similar ways, even if they are populated by different species and widely differing fungal communities. This suggests that an understanding of fungal trait distribution, rather than taxonomic distribution, may help us to understand the fundamental processes structuring communities at continental and global scales.

Talbot, Jennifer M., et al. “Endemism and functional convergence across the North American soil mycobiome.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.17 (2014): 6341-6346.