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Complex effects of mammalian grazing on extramatrical mycelial biomass in the Scandes forest-tundra ecotone

Journal article
Authors Tage Vowles
Frida Lindwall
Alf Ekblad
Mohammad Bahram
Brendan Furneaux
Martin Ryberg
Robert G. Björk
Published in Ecology and Evolution
Volume 8
Issue 2
Pages 1019–1030
ISSN 2045-7758
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 1019–1030
Language en
Keywords Betula nana, Betula pubescens subsp. czerepanovii, ectomycorrhiza, extramatrical mycelia, herbivory, mountain birch forest, shrub heath
Subject categories Terrestrial ecology


Mycorrhizal associations are widespread in high-latitude ecosystems and are potentially of great importance for global carbon dynamics. Although large herbivores play a key part in shaping subarctic plant communities, their impact on mycorrhizal dynamics is largely unknown. We measured extramatrical mycelial (EMM) biomass during one growing season in 16-year-old herbivore exclosures and unenclosed control plots (ambient), at three mountain birch forests and two shrub heath sites, in the Scandes forest-tundra ecotone. We also used high-throughput amplicon sequencing for taxonomic identification to investigate differences in fungal species composition. At the birch forest sites, EMM biomass was significantly higher in exclosures (1.36 ± 0.43 g C/m2) than in ambient conditions (0.66 ± 0.17 g C/m2) and was positively influenced by soil thawing degree-days. At the shrub heath sites, there was no significant effect on EMM biomass (exclosures: 0.72 ± 0.09 g C/m2; ambient plots: 1.43 ± 0.94). However, EMM biomass was negatively related to Betula nana abundance, which was greater in exclosures, suggesting that grazing affected EMM biomass positively. We found no significant treatment effects on fungal diversity but the most abundant ectomycorrhizal lineage/cortinarius, showed a near-significant positive effect of herbivore exclusion (p = .08), indicating that herbivory also affects fungal community composition. These results suggest that herbivory can influence fungal biomass in highly context-dependent ways in subarctic ecosystems. Considering the importance of root-associated fungi for ecosystem carbon balance, these findings could have far-reaching implications.

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