December 05, 2016

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Tree Root Fungus Association as a Predictor for Soil Microbial Community Dynamics

Dominant mycorrhizal association of trees alters carbon and nutrient cycling by selecting for microbial groups with distinct enzyme function.

The Science

Prior to this study, only one type of tree root fungus at one time was studied for their effect on the microbial and fungal biome of local soils. Researchers studied the complexity within plots with varying percentages of two types of fungal association to determine intermingled linkages.

The Impact

Tree root fungus association is often used as a useful predictor of fungal biomass and microbial interaction of soils. Knowledge of these associations informs ecosystem models that lack the data necessary to integrate fungal contributions to decomposition processes, nutrient cycling, and soil carbon storage. Shifts in fungal association of forests can have predictable and scalable impacts on fungal biomass and biogeochemical processes in soil, and including this information leads to better predictive ecosystem models.


This study shows that the dominant fungal (i.e., mycorrhizal) association of trees alters carbon and nutrient cycling by selecting for microbial groups with distinct enzyme function for nutrient acquisition. Furthermore, if soil carbon-nitrogen ratio and fungal association percentages of tree species are known in a given area then microbial and fungal biome characteristics can be estimated using the MANE (mycorrhizal associated nutrient economy) framework. Thus, by using a mycorrhizal-driven, trait-based approach, ecosystem models can start to predict the effects of species shifts on soil biogeochemical processes, especially at large spatial scales.

Principal Investigator

Joshua B. Fisher

Program Manager

Daniel Stover
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science


DOE BER Environmental System Science (formerly Terrestrial Ecosystem Science) program and the NSF Ecosystem Science program.


Cheeke, T.E., et al. "Dominant Mycorrhizal Association of Trees Alters Carbon and Nutrient Cycling by Selecting for Microbial Groups with Distinct Enzyme Function." New Phytologist 214 (1), 432-442  (2016).