Fungal loop transfer of nitrogen depends on biocrust constituents and nitrogen form

By: , and 



Besides performing multiple ecosystem services individually and collectively, biocrust constituents may also create biological networks connecting spatially and temporally distinct processes. In the fungal loop hypothesis rainfall variability allows fungi to act as conduits and reservoirs, translocating resources between soils and host plants. To evaluate the extent to which biocrust species composition and nitrogen (N) form influence loops, we created a minor, localized rainfall event containing 15NH4+ and 15NO3. We then measured the resulting δ15N in the surrounding dry cyanobacteria- and lichen-dominated crusts and grass, Achnatherum hymenoides, after 24 h. We also estimated the biomass of fungal constituents using quantitative PCR and characterized fungal communities by sequencing the 18S rRNA gene. We found evidence for the initiation of fungal loops in cyanobacteria-dominated crusts where 15N, from 15NH4+, moved 40 mm h−1 in biocrust soils with the δ15N of crusts decreasing as the radial distance from the water addition increased (linear mixed effects model (LMEM)): R2 = 0.67, F2,12 = 11, P = 0.002). In cyanobacteria crusts, δ15N, from 15NH4+, was diluted as Ascomycota biomass increased (LMEM: R2 = 0.63, F2,8 = 6.8, P = 0.02), Ascomycota accounted for 82 % (±2.8) of all fungal sequences, and one order, Pleosporales, comprised 66 % (±6.9) of Ascomycota. The seeming lack of loops in moss-dominated crusts may stem from the relatively large moss biomass effectively absorbing and holding N from our minor wet deposition event. The substantial movement of 15NH4+ may indicate a fungal preference for the reduced N form during amino acid transformation and translocation. We found a marginally significant enrichment of δ15N in A. hymenoides leaves but only in cyanobacteria biocrusts translocating 15N, offering evidence of links between biocrust constituents and higher plants. Our results suggest that minor rainfall events may initiate fungal loops potentially allowing constituents, like dark septate Pleosporales, to rapidly translocate N from NH4+ over NO3 through biocrust networks.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Fungal loop transfer of nitrogen depends on biocrust constituents and nitrogen form
Series title Biogeosciences
DOI 10.5194/bg-15-3831-2018
Volume 15
Issue 12
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Copernicus Publications
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 3831
Last page 3840