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Contrasting structure of root mycorrhizal communities of black spruce and trembling aspen in different layers of the soil profile in the boreal mixedwoods of eastern Canada



Mycorrhizal fungi are critical for the growth and survival of trees although the knowledge on the extent of their association with different tree species in the boreal forest remains limited.


We examined the vertical distribution and composition of the root mycorrhizal communities of black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) B.S.P) and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx) along three soil layers (organic, minerals top 0–15 cm and bottom 15–30 cm) in pure and mixed stands, using next generation sequencing.


We found that spruce and aspen differ in the composition of their mycorrhizal communities in respective pure stands. The difference was present also in mixed stands, despite a shift in the composition of species-specific mycorrhizal communities between pure and mixed stands. In mixed stands, the relative abundance of spruce-specialist mycorrhizae in the organic layer was higher than that of aspen-specialists. The opposite pattern was observed in the mineral soil. The mixed stands exhibited lower richness and abundance of generalist mycorrhizae in the organic and in the mineral soil layers.


The results suggest that it is the soil chemistry that structure species-specific mycorrhizal communities between pure stands and along different soil depth within stands. However, in mixed stands, it is the identity of tree species that determines the structure of mycorrhizae communities within soil layers. We speculate that the differences in the richness and abundance of individual mycorrhizal communities of spruce and aspen along the soil profile would likely contribute to stronger partitioning of tree nutrient uptake between these two species in mixed stands.

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We thank Danielle Charron, Raynald Julien, and Rébecca Hétu-Le François for their assistance in fieldwork. We also thank Mélanie DesRochers of the Centre d’étude de la forêt (CEF) for the map of the study sites. This study was supported by Y.B.’s Chaire industrielle CRSNG-UQAT-UQAM en aménagement forestier durable. Financial support was also provided by (1) a MITACS Accelerate grant to I.D. in partnership with NORBORD and OURANOS, (2) project RDC-COOP Mix Québec IGOR with RYAM and NORBORD entitled “Can tree species mixing improve resilience and productivity of boreal forests?”, and (3) a Fondation de l’Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FUQAT: Jean-Jacques et Fernand Cossette) scholarship to C.GM. Travel funds were provided by the CEF and sequencing costs were supported by the Laurentian forestry centre (LFC) laboratory through a joint project between Y.B.’s Chaire industrielle CRSNG-UQAT-UQAM en aménagement forestier durable, the LFC lab and the laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique of Université de Toulouse III Paul Sabatier.

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Conceptualization and Methodology, C.GM., D.H., Y.B., and I.D.; Data curation and formal analysis, C.GM.; Funding acquisition, I.D.; Supervision, D.H., and I.D.; Writing – original draft, C.GM.; Writing – review and editing, C. GM., D.H., Y.B., M.R., M.G., A.S., and I.D. All the authors gave final approval for submission.

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Correspondence to Claudele Ghotsa Mekontchou.

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Ghotsa Mekontchou, C., Houle, D., Bergeron, Y. et al. Contrasting structure of root mycorrhizal communities of black spruce and trembling aspen in different layers of the soil profile in the boreal mixedwoods of eastern Canada. Plant Soil (2022).

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  • Boreal forest
  • Mycorrhizal fungi
  • Stand composition
  • Nutrient partitioning
  • Soil nutrition