Determining place and process: functional traits of ectomycorrhizal fungi that affect both community structure and ecosystem function



There is a growing interest amongst community ecologists in functional traits. Response traits determine membership in communities. Effect traits influence ecosystem function. One goal of community ecology is to predict the effect of environmental change on ecosystem function. Environmental change can directly and indirectly affect ecosystem function. Indirect effects are mediated through shifts in community structure. It is difficult to predict how environmental change will affect ecosystem function via the indirect route when the change in effect trait distribution is not predictable from the change in response trait distribution. When response traits function as effect traits, however, it becomes possible to predict the indirect effect of environmental change on ecosystem function. Here we illustrate four examples in which key attributes of ectomycorrhizal fungi function as both response and effect traits. While plant ecologists have discussed response and effect traits in the context of community structuring and ecosystem function, this approach has not been applied to ectomycorrhizal fungi. This is unfortunate because of the large effects of ectomycorrhizal fungi on ecosystem function. We hope to stimulate further research in this area in the hope of better predicting the ecosystem- and landscape-level effects of the fungi as influenced by changing environmental conditions.