Fire shapes fungal guild diversity and composition through direct and indirect pathways

Leanne Greenwood, Dale G. Nimmo, Eleonora Egidi, Jodi N. Price, Rachel McIntosh, Adam Frew

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Fire has shaped global ecosystems for millennia by directly killing organisms and indirectly altering habitats and resources. All terrestrial ecosystems, including fire-prone ecosystems, rely on soil-inhabiting fungi, where they play vital roles in ecological processes. Yet our understanding of how fire regimes influence soil fungi remains limited and our knowledge of these interactions in semiarid landscapes is virtually absent. We collected soil samples and vegetation measurements from sites across a gradient in time-since-fire ages (0–75 years-since-fire) and fire frequency (burnt 0–5 times during the recent 29-year period) in a semiarid heathland of south-eastern Australia. We characterized fungal communities using ITS amplicon-sequencing and assigned fungi taxonomically to trophic guilds. We used structural equation models to examine direct, indirect and total effects of time-since-fire and fire frequency on total fungal, ectomycorrhizal, saprotrophic and pathogenic richness. We used multivariate analyses to investigate how total fungal, ectomycorrhizal, saprotrophic and pathogenic species composition differed between post-fire successional stages and fire frequency classes. Time-since-fire was an important driver of saprotrophic richness; directly, saprotrophic richness increased with time-since-fire, and indirectly, saprotrophic richness declined with time-since-fire (resulting in a positive total effect), mediated through the impact of fire on substrates. Frequently burnt sites had lower numbers of saprotrophic and pathogenic species. Post-fire successional stages and fire frequency classes were characterized by distinct fungal communities, with large differences in ectomycorrhizal species composition. Understanding the complex responses of fungal communities to fire can be improved by exploring how the effects of fire flow through ecosystems. Diverse fire histories may be important for maintaining the functional diversity of fungi in semiarid regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4921-4939
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number17
Early online date15 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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