Phylogenetic structure of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities along an elevation gradient
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Despite the importance of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi within terrestrial ecosystems, we know little about how natural AM fungal communities are structured. To date, the majority of studies examining AM fungal community diversity have focused on single habitats with similar environmental conditions, with relatively few studies having assessed the diversity of AM fungi over large-scale environmental gradients. In this study, we characterized AM fungal communities in the soil along a high-elevation gradient in the North American Rocky Mountains. We focused on phylogenetic patterns of AM fungal communities to gain insight into how AM fungal communities are naturally assembled. We found that alpine AM fungal communities had lower phylogenetic diversity relative to lower elevation communities, as well as being more heterogeneous in composition than either treeline or subalpine communities. AM fungal communities were phylogenetically clustered at all elevations sampled, suggesting that environmental filtering, either selection by host plants or fungal niches, is the primary ecological process structuring communities along the gradient.
KeywordsArbuscular mycorrhizal fungi Elevation gradients Community phylogenetics Mycorrhizal ecology 454 pyrosequencing
We wish to thank the US National Park Service for the permission and access to the field sites. We also thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for Discovery grants to MMH, JP and JK.
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