The relative amounts of hyphal inoculum in forest soils may determine the capacity for fungi to compete with and replace early colonizers of wood in ground contact. Our aim in this study was to test the flexibility of priority effects (colonization timing) by varying the timing of inoculum introduction (i.e., precolonization) and amount of inoculum (i.e., inoculum potential). We controlled these variables in soil-block microcosms using fungi with known competitive outcomes in similar conditions, tracking isolate-specific fungal biomass, and residue physiochemistry over time. In the precolonization trial (experiment I), a brown rot fungus Gloeophyllum trabeum was given 1, 3, or 5 weeks to precolonize wood blocks (oak, birch, pine, and spruce) prior the introduction of a white rot fungus, Irpex lacteus, a more aggressive colonizer in this set-up. In the inoculum potential trial (experiment II), the fungi were inoculated simultaneously, but with eightfold higher brown rot inoculum than that of experiment I. As expected, longer precolonization duration increased the chance for the less-competitive brown rot fungus to outcompete its white rot opponent. Higher brown rot fungal inoculum outside of the wood matrix also resulted in competitive success for the brown rot isolate in most cases. These temporal shifts in fungal dominance were detectable in a ‘community snapshot’ as isolate-specific quantitative PCR, but also as functionally-relevant consequences of wood rot type, including carbohydrate depolymerization and pH. These results from a controlled system reinforce fungal-fungal interaction and suggest that relative inoculum availability beyond the wood matrix (i.e., soils) might regulate the duration of priority effects and shift the functional trajectory of wood decomposition.
Fungi Priority effects Community assembly Competition Wood decomposition
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This research was made possible through the generous support of the Conservation and the Environment grants program of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (New York, NY). We thank the University of Minnesota Graduate School for Grant-in-aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship funding in the initial stages of method development. A doctoral dissertation fellowship of the University of Minnesota, awarded to Zewei Song, also provided generous support for this research. We also wanted to thank Dr. Seavey in helping produce the wood blocks.
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