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How do soil fungi change with elevation?
The cloud cover that characterizes tropical montane cloud forests (TMCF) has a significant influence over ecosystem properties. Unfortunately, climate change is causing this cloud layer to rise, resulting in an increase in the number of dry days.
Overall, there are vast knowledge gaps in how soil microbes respond to changes in elevation, especially within TMCF. We completed a survey of soil properties, processes, and fungal community along this elevation gradient in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica. This study is one of the first to comprehensively examine how soil fungal communities respond to changes in elevation in tropical montane cloud forests, and provides insights for global change.
Looby, C.I., M.R. Maltz, K.K. Treseder. 2016. Belowground responses to elevation in a
changing cloud forest. Ecology and Evolution 6: 1996-2009.
“Efecto en cadena: el bosque nuboso en riesgo por impacto del cambio climático en sus
hongos,” Scientific American Español, June 2016
“Observing Fungi in a Mountain Cloud Forest,” UCI Magazine, Spring 2016
“Fungus Among Us: Biologists Study Global Warming from Costa Rica,” Costa Rica Star
News, March 2016
“Even Plant-supporting Soil Fungi Affected by Global Warming, UCI study finds,” UCI
News, March 2016
How will soil fungi and decomposition change with warmer and drier conditions?
We also used this elevation gradient for a proxy for changes in climate change. Mountains are a great way to simulate climate change. Higher elevations are cooler and wetter and lower elevations are warmer and drier. Moving down the mountain is like moving forward in predicting future climate change.
For this study, we translocated soil down the mountain so that fungi would experience the warmer temperatures and drier conditions associated with climate change. Soil was put in "microbial cages" that have tiny pores. These pores are large enough to allow water and nutrients to pass through, but are small enough so that fungi cannot enter. With these cages, we were able to determine how soil fungi from high elevations may respond to climate change.
Looby, C.I., K.K. Treseder. Fungal communities and extracellular enzymes shift with
warming in a tropical montane cloud forest. In review.
What about soil in the canopy?
One defining characteristic of TMCF is the high epiphyte biomass living on the branches of trees, increasing the surface area of these branches. Organic material collects and decomposes on these branches and over time canopy soil is formed. This serves as a significant reservoir to house microbial communities.
Although both canopy and terrestrial soils contribute to whole-forest processes, nutrient cycling in these two soil types is largely decoupled. Few studies have explored microbial communities and nutrient cycling within the canopy due to their inaccessibility. Another goal of my dissertation research is to compare fungal diversity and extracellular enzymatic activity in canopy and terrestrial soils along two elevation gradients. This project is being done in collaboration with Emily Hollenbeck at Brown University.