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Taxa–area relationship and neutral dynamics influence the diversity of fungal communities on senesced tree leaves


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This study utilized individual senesced sugar maple and beech leaves as natural sampling units within which to quantify saprotrophic fungal diversity. Quantifying communities in individual leaves allowed us to determine if fungi display a classic taxa–area relationship (species richness increasing with area). We found a significant taxa–area relationship for sugar maple leaves, but not beech leaves, consistent with Wright's species-energy theory. This suggests that energy availability as affected plant biochemistry is a key factor regulating the scaling relationships of fungal diversity. We also compared taxa rank abundance distributions to models associated with niche or neutral theories of community assembly, and tested the influence of leaf type as an environmental niche factor controlling fungal community composition. Among rank abundance distribution models, the zero-sum model derived from neutral theory showed the best fit to our data. Leaf type explained only 5% of the variability in community composition. Habitat (vernal pool, upland or riparian forest floor) and site of collection explained > 40%, but could be attributed to either niche or neutral processes. Hence, although niche dynamics may regulate fungal communities at the habitat scale, our evidence points towards neutral assembly of saprotrophic fungi on individual leaves, with energy availability constraining the taxa–area relationship.

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