Legacy effects of tree mortality mediated by ectomycorrhizal fungal communities

Rebecca C. Mueller, Crescent M. Scudder, Thomas G. Whitham, Catherine A. Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Successive droughts have resulted in extensive tree mortality in the southwestern United States. Recovery of these areas is dependent on the survival and recruitment of young trees. For trees that rely on ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) for survival and growth, changes in soil fungal communities following tree mortality could negatively affect seedling establishment. We used tree-focused and stand-scale measurements to examine the impact of pinyon pine mortality on the performance of surviving juvenile trees and the potential for mutualism limitation of seedling establishment via altered EMF communities. Mature pinyon mortality did not affect the survival of juvenile pinyons, but increased their growth. At both tree and stand scales, high pinyon mortality had no effect on the abundance of EMF inocula, but led to altered EMF community composition including increased abundance of Geopora and reduced abundance of Tuber. Seedling biomass was strongly positively associated with Tuber abundance, suggesting that reductions in this genus with pinyon mortality could have negative consequences for establishing seedlings. These findings suggest that whereas mature pinyon mortality led to competitive release for established juvenile pinyons, changes in EMF community composition with mortality could limit successful seedling establishment and growth in high-mortality sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • climate change
  • drought
  • ectomycorrhiza
  • mutualism limitation
  • tree mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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