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No plant functional diversity effects on foliar fungal pathogens in experimental tree communities


Foliar fungal pathogens affect forest ecosystem processes by exerting highly species-specific impacts on growth and survival of trees. As many ecosystem processes in forests depend on functional diversity of specific tree species, a close relationship is expected between this and foliar fungal pathogen infestation. Testing for such a relationship in the German tree diversity experiment BIOTREE (Bechstedt), we hypothesized that pathogen richness and pathogen load decline with increasing functional diversity of tree communities. Using macro- and microscopic analyses, we assessed pathogen richness and load on 16 tree species in plots that, although differing in functional diversity, had the same tree species richness. We found no effects of functional diversity on pathogen richness or load. However, we encountered strong species identity effects in plot species composition, as susceptible tree species contributed positively to each community’s pathogen richness and load. Furthermore, testing for effects of particular leaf traits and geographical range size of host species revealed a significant effect of total leaf phenolics, which was unexpected as pathogen richness increased with increasing content in polyphenolics. Our study showed that at the community level, host species’ identity was more important for foliar fungal pathogen richness and load than the functional diversity of host trees. The positive relationship between pathogen richness and phenolics in leaves, along with the finding that pathogen richness is very much conserved in tree species, point to an evolutionary arms race between hosts and fungi resulting from fungi increasing their capacity to infect tree leaves and trees boosting their defences.

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We are grateful to M. Baudis for helping with the field work. For technical support on leaf trait analyses, we thank D. Eichenberg, C. Ristok, K. Schmon and S. Wedi-Pumpe. Thanks are due to G. Seidler for providing tree species’ range sizes. For the analysis of leaf areas, we used the free Lafore software (LeafAreaFOREveryone, © V. Lehsten, Oldenburg, Germany). A Graduate Scholarship of Saxony-Anhalt and a grant from the Scholarship Programme of the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) are highly acknowledged. The research leading to these results also attracted funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement no. 265171, project FunDivEUROPE as well as of the BACCARA project, which received funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013), under grant agreement no. 226299. O.P. and H.B. also acknowledge the support of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, funded by the German Science Foundation (FZT 118).

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Correspondence to Lydia Hantsch.

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Hantsch, L., Braun, U., Haase, J. et al. No plant functional diversity effects on foliar fungal pathogens in experimental tree communities. Fungal Diversity 66, 139–151 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13225-013-0273-2

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  • Biodiversity–ecosystem functioning
  • BIOTREE experiment
  • Host defence traits
  • Phylogenetic pattern
  • Polyphenolics
  • Tree species identity effects