Links Between Heathland Fungal Biomass Mineralization, Melanization, and Hydrophobicity
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Comprehending the decomposition process is crucial for our understanding of the mechanisms of carbon (C) sequestration in soils. The decomposition of plant biomass has been extensively studied. It revealed that extrinsic biomass properties that restrict its access to decomposers influence decomposition more than intrinsic ones that are only related to its chemical structure. Fungal biomass has been much less investigated, even though it contributes to a large extent to soil organic matter, and is characterized by specific biochemical properties. In this study, we investigated the extent to which decomposition of heathland fungal biomass was affected by its hydrophobicity (extrinsic property) and melanin content (intrinsic property). We hypothesized that, as for plant biomass, hydrophobicity would have a greater impact on decomposition than melanin content. Mineralization was determined as the mineralization of soil organic carbon (SOC) into CO2 by headspace GC/MS after inoculation by a heathland soil microbial community. Results show that decomposition was not affected by hydrophobicity, but was negatively correlated with melanin content. We argue that it may indicate that either melanin content is both an intrinsic and extrinsic property, or that some soil decomposers evolved the ability to use surfactants to access to hydrophobic biomass. In the latter case, biomass hydrophobicity should not be considered as a crucial extrinsic factor. We also explored the ecology of decomposition, melanin content, and hydrophobicity, among heathland soil fungal guilds. Ascomycete black yeasts had the highest melanin content, and hyaline Basidiomycete yeasts the lowest. Hydrophobicity was an all-or-nothing trait, with most isolates being hydrophobic.
KeywordsDecomposition Fungal biomass Heathland Hydrophobicity Melanin
The authors are thankful to the BOF (Special Research Fund) from Hasselt University for financing their research, as well as METHUZALEM provided to Jaco Vangronsveld under grant number 08M03VGRJ.
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Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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