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Towards establishing a fungal economics spectrum in soil saprobic fungi


Nature Communications volume 15, Article number: 3321 (2024) 



Trait-based frameworks are promising tools to understand the functional consequences of community shifts in response to environmental change. The applicability of these tools to soil microbes is limited by a lack of functional trait data and a focus on categorical traits. To address this gap for an important group of soil microorganisms, we identify trade-offs underlying a fungal economics spectrum based on a large trait collection in 28 saprobic fungal isolates, derived from a common grassland soil and grown in culture plates. In this dataset, ecologically relevant trait variation is best captured by a three-dimensional fungal economics space. The primary explanatory axis represents a dense-fast continuum, resembling dominant life-history trade-offs in other taxa. A second significant axis reflects mycelial flexibility, and a third one carbon acquisition traits. All three axes correlate with traits involved in soil carbon cycling. Since stress tolerance and fundamental niche gradients are primarily related to the dense-fast continuum, traits of the 2nd (carbon-use efficiency) and especially the 3rd (decomposition) orthogonal axes are independent of tested environmental stressors. These findings suggest a fungal economics space which can now be tested at broader scales.



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