Although bryophytes are a dominant vegetation component of boreal and alpine ecosystems, little is known about their associated fungal communities. HPLC assays of ergosterol (fungal biomass) and amplicon pyrosequencing of the ITS2 region of rDNA were used to investigate how the fungal communities associated with four bryophyte species changed across an elevational gradient transitioning from conifer forest to the low-alpine. Fungal biomass and OTU richness associated with the four moss hosts did not vary significantly across the gradient (P > 0.05), and both were more strongly affected by host and tissue type. Despite largely constant levels of fungal biomass, distinct shifts in community composition of fungi associated with Hylocomium, Pleurozium and Polytrichum occurred between the elevation zones of the gradient. This likely is a result of influence on fungal communities by major environmental factors such as temperature, directly or indirectly mediated by, or interacting with, the response of other components of the vegetation (i.e. the dominant trees). Fungal communities associated with Dicranum were an exception, exhibiting spatial autocorrelation between plots, and no significant structuring by elevation. Nevertheless, the detection of distinct fungal assemblages associated with a single host growing in different elevation zones along an elevational gradient is of particular relevance in the light of the ongoing changes in vegetation patterns in boreal and alpine systems due to global climate warming.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.