Evidence of dispersal limitation in soil microorganisms: isolation reduces species richness on mycorrhizal tree islands

Ecology. 2010 Dec;91(12):3631-40. doi: 10.1890/09-2237.1.


Dispersal limitation plays an important role in a number of equilibrium and nonequilibrium theories about community ecology. In this study we use the framework of island biogeography to look for evidence of dispersal limitation in ectomycorrhizal fungal assemblages on "tree islands," patches of host trees located in a non-host vegetation matrix. Because of the potentially strong effects of island area on species richness and immigration, we chose to control island size by sampling tree islands consisting of a single host individual. Richness on tree islands was high, with estimates ranging up to 42 species of ectomycorrhizal fungi associating with a single host individual. Species richness decreased significantly with increasing isolation of tree islands, with our regression predicting a 50% decrease in species richness when tree islands are located distances of approximately 1 km from large patches of contiguous forests. Despite the fact that fungal fruit bodies produce large numbers of spores with high potential for long-distance travel, these results suggest that dispersal limitation is significant in ectomycorrhizal assemblages. There were no discernible effects of isolation or environment on the species identity of tree island fungal colonists. In contrast to the highly predictable patterns of tree island colonization we observed in a previous study on early successional forests, we suggest that over longer time periods the community assembly process becomes more dominated by stochastic immigration and local extinction events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Mycorrhizae / physiology*
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Trees / microbiology