Microbial Ecology

, Volume 76, Issue 1, pp 156–168 | Cite as

Fungal Communities and Functional Guilds Shift Along an Elevational Gradient in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

  • Allison M. VeachEmail author
  • C. Elizabeth Stokes
  • Jennifer Knoepp
  • Ari Jumpponen
  • Richard Baird
Fungal Microbiology


Nitrogen deposition alters forest ecosystems particularly in high elevation, montane habitats where nitrogen deposition is greatest and continues to increase. We collected soils across an elevational (788–1940 m) gradient, encompassing both abiotic (soil chemistry) and biotic (vegetation community) gradients, at eight locations in the southern Appalachian Mountains of southwestern North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. We measured soil chemistry (total N, C, extractable PO4, soil pH, cation exchange capacity [ECEC], percent base saturation [% BS]) and dissected soil fungal communities using ITS2 metabarcode Illumina MiSeq sequencing. Total soil N, C, PO4, % BS, and pH increased with elevation and plateaued at approximately 1400 m, whereas ECEC linearly increased and C/N decreased with elevation. Fungal communities differed among locations and were correlated with all chemical variables, except PO4, whereas OTU richness increased with total N. Several ecological guilds (i.e., ectomycorrhizae, saprotrophs, plant pathogens) differed in abundance among locations; specifically, saprotroph abundance, primarily attributable to genus Mortierella, was positively correlated with elevation. Ectomycorrhizae declined with total N and soil pH and increased with total C and PO4 where plant pathogens increased with total N and decreased with total C. Our results demonstrate significant turnover in taxonomic and functional fungal groups across elevational gradients which facilitate future predictions on forest ecosystem change in the southern Appalachians as nitrogen deposition rates increase and regional temperature and precipitation regimes shift.


ITS2 gene sequencing Fungal ecology Coweeta hydrologic laboratory Great Smoky Mountains Soil chemistry 



Appreciation is extended to Highlands Biological Station, Highlands, NC for the Grant-In-Aids financial support awarded to R. Baird. We thank Jason Love, Coweeta LTER Site Manager, for field assistance, Shawn Brown for laboratory and bioinformatics assistance, and Alina Akhunova at the Kansas State University Integrated Genomics Facility for assistance and preparation of ITS library sequencing. Additional laboratory facilities were provided by Mississippi State University. Soil sample collection and chemical analyses were supported by NSF grants DEB0218001 and DEB0823293 to the Coweeta LTER program at the University of Georgia and by USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory project funds.

Supplementary material

248_2017_1116_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (21 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 21 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Biosciences DivisionOak RidgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Forest ProductsMississippi State UniversityStarkvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant PathologyMississippi State UniversityStarkvilleUSA
  5. 5.USDA, Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Center for Forest Watershed Research, Coweeta Hydrologic LaboratoryOttoUSA

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