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No biogeographical pattern for a root-associated fungal species complex


Christoph. R. Grünig, Forest Pathology and Dendrology, Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ), ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Aim  The biogeography of microbes is poorly understood and there is an open debate regarding if and how microbial biodiversity is structured. At the beginning of the 20th century, Baas Becking laid the foundations for the biogeography of microbes by stating that ‘Everything is everywhere, but the environment selects’ (the EisE hypothesis). This hypothesis remained dogma for almost a century. However, the recognition that microbial ‘species’ are often assemblages of reproductively isolated lineages challenged the EisE hypothesis, leading to the now common assumption that microbial communities possess cryptic biogeographic structures. We tested the presence of a cryptic biogeographical structure for a well-characterized fungal species complex (the Phialocephala fortinii s.l.–Acephala applanata species complex, PAC) using precise molecular species resolution. In addition, we analysed factors that could govern PAC community assembling.

Locations  Forty-four study sites in temperate and boreal forests across the Northern Hemisphere were included.

Methods  (1) The distance–decay relationship among PAC communities was calculated and a resampling procedure was applied to analyse the effect of sampling intensity and geographic distances among PAC communities. (2) Factors shaping PAC communities (e.g. climatic factors and tree species composition) were studied. (3) We tested PAC communities for random composition.

Results  We found that the similarity of species assemblages did not decrease with increasing geographical distance. Moreover, species diversity did not increase by expanding the area sampled. Instead, species diversity increased by increasing the sampling effort. Community composition correlated neither with tree species composition nor climate, and no association among species was observed.

Main conclusions  We could not discover any cryptic biogeographic structure even after applying refined species assignment but we demonstrate the importance of sampling effort for understanding the biogeography of microorganisms. Moreover, we show that primarily stochastic effects are responsible for the species composition of PAC communities.