Fungal Communities on Decaying Leaves in Streams: A Comparison of Two Leaf Species

Publication Title

Mycological Progress

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aquatic hyphomycetes, microscopy, phylogenetic analysis




Decomposition of leaf litter is a microbial mediated process that helps to transfer energy and nutrients from leaves to higher trophic levels in woodland streams. Generally, aquatic hyphomycetes are viewed as the major fungal group responsible for leaf litter decomposition. In this study, traditional microscopic examination (based on identification of released conidia) and phylogenetic analysis of 18S rRNA genes from cultivated fungi were used to compare fungal community composition on decomposing leaves of two species (sugar maple and white oak) from a NE Ohio stream. No significant differences were found in sporulation rates between maple and oak leaves and both had similar species diversity. From the 18S rRNA gene sequence data, identification was achieved for 12 isolates and taxonomic affiliation of 12 of the remaining 14 isolates could be obtained. A neighbor-joining tree (with bootstrap values) was constructed to examine the taxonomic distribution of the isolates relative to sequences of known operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Surprisingly, only 2 of the isolates obtained were aquatic hyphomycetes based on phylogenetic analysis. Overall, there were no differences between the two leaf types and a higher diversity was observed via culturing and subsequent 18S rRNA gene sequencing than by conidia staining. These differences resulted from the fact that traditional microscopy provides estimates of aquatic hyphomycete diversity while the other approach revealed the presence of both aquatic hyphomycete and non-aquatic hyphomycete taxa. The presence of this broad array of taxa suggests that the role of aquatic hyphomycetes relative to other fungi be re-evaluated. Even though the functional role of these non-aquatic hyphomycetes taxa is unknown, their presence and diversity demonstrates the need to delve further into fungal community structure on decomposing leaves.