Spatial scaling of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal diversity is affected by farming practice


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Evidence suggests that microbial communities show patterns of spatial scaling which can be driven by geographical distance and environmental heterogeneity. Here we demonstrate that human management can have a major impact on microbial distribution patterns at both the local and landscape scale. Mycorrhizal fungi are vital components of terrestrial ecosystems, forming a mutualistic symbiosis with plant roots which has a major impact on above ground ecology and productivity. We used contrasting agricultural systems to investigate the spatial scaling of the most widespread mycorrhizal fungus group, the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). Using multiple sampling sites with a maximum separation of 250 km we describe for the first time the roles which land management, environmental heterogeneity and geographical distance play in determining spatial patterns of microbial distribution. Analysis of AMF taxa–area relationships at each sampling site revealed that AMF diversity and spatial turnover was greater under organic relative to conventional farm management. At the regional scale (250 km) distance–decay analyses showed that there was significant change in AMF community composition with distance, and that this was greater under organic relative to conventional management. Environmental heterogeneity was found to be the major factor determining turnover of AMF taxa at the landscape scale. Overall we demonstrate that human management can play a key role in determining the turnover of microbial communities at both the local and regional scales.