Responses of soil cellulolytic fungal communities to elevated atmospheric CO 2 are complex and variable across five ecosystems

Carolyn F. Weber, Donald R. Zak, Bruce A. Hungate, Robert B. Jackson, Rytas Vilgalys, R. David Evans, Christopher W. Schadt, J. Patrick Megonigal, Cheryl R. Kuske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Elevated atmospheric CO 2 generally increases plant productivity and subsequently increases the availability of cellulose in soil to microbial decomposers. As key cellulose degraders, soil fungi are likely to be one of the most impacted and responsive microbial groups to elevated atmospheric CO 2. To investigate the impacts of ecosystem type and elevated atmospheric CO 2 on cellulolytic fungal communities, we sequenced 10677 cbhI gene fragments encoding the catalytic subunit of cellobiohydrolase I, across five distinct terrestrial ecosystem experiments after a decade of exposure to elevated CO 2. The cbhI composition of each ecosystem was distinct, as supported by weighted Unifrac analyses (all P-values;<0.001), with few operational taxonomic units (OTUs) being shared across ecosystems. Using a 114-member cbhI sequence database compiled from known fungi, less than 1% of the environmental sequences could be classified at the family level indicating that cellulolytic fungi in situ are likely dominated by novel fungi or known fungi that are not yet recognized as cellulose degraders. Shifts in fungal cbhI composition and richness that were correlated with elevated CO 2 exposure varied across the ecosystems. In aspen plantation and desert creosote bush soils, cbhI gene richness was significantly higher after exposure to elevated CO 2 (550μmol mol -1) than under ambient CO 2 (360μmol mol -1 CO 2). In contrast, while the richness was not altered, the relative abundance of dominant OTUs in desert soil crusts was significantly shifted. This suggests that responses are complex, vary across different ecosystems and, in at least one case, are OTU-specific. Collectively, our results document the complexity of cellulolytic fungal communities in multiple terrestrial ecosystems and the variability of their responses to long-term exposure to elevated atmospheric CO 2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2778-2793
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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