A group of ectomycorrhizal fungi restricts organic matter accumulation in boreal forest

Ecol Lett. 2021 Jul;24(7):1341-1351. doi: 10.1111/ele.13746. Epub 2021 May 2.


Boreal forest soils are important global carbon sinks, with significant storage in the organic topsoil. Decomposition of these stocks requires oxidative enzymes, uniquely produced by fungi. Across Swedish boreal forests, we found that local carbon storage in the organic topsoil was 33% lower in the presence of a group of closely related species of ectomycorrhizal fungi - Cortinarius acutus s.l.. This observation challenges the prevailing view that ectomycorrhizal fungi generally act to increase carbon storage in soils but supports the idea that certain ectomycorrhizal fungi can complement free-living decomposers, maintaining organic matter turnover, nutrient cycling and tree productivity under nutrient-poor conditions. The indication that a narrow group of fungi may exert a major influence on carbon cycling questions the prevailing dogma of functional redundancy among microbial decomposers. Cortinarius acutus s.l. responds negatively to stand-replacing disturbance, and associated population declines are likely to increase soil carbon sequestration while impeding long-term nutrient cycling.

Keywords: carbon sequestration; decomposition; functional guilds; functional redundancy; fungal communities; metabarcoding; mor layer; nitrogen; soil; statistical modelling.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Carbon
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Cortinarius
  • Forests
  • Fungi
  • Mycorrhizae*
  • Soil
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Sweden
  • Taiga*


  • Soil
  • Carbon

Supplementary concepts

  • Cortinarius acutus