Relationship between soil fungal diversity and temperature in the maritime Antarctic


Soil fungi have pivotal ecological roles as decomposers, pathogens and symbionts1,2. Alterations to their diversity arising from climate change could have substantial effects on ecosystems, particularly those undergoing rapid warming that contain few species3,4. Here, we report a study using pyrosequencing to assess fungal diversity in 29 soils sampled from a 1,650 km climatic gradient through the maritime Antarctic, the most rapidly warming region in the Southern Hemisphere5,6. Using a ‘space-for-time’ substitution approach, we show that soil fungal diversity is higher in warmer habitats, with increases of 4.7 (observed) and 11.3 (predicted) fungal taxa per degree Celsius rise in surface temperature along the transect. Among 22 predictor variables, air temperature was the strongest and most consistent predictor of diversity. We propose that the current rapid warming in the maritime Antarctic (0.34 °C per decade6) will facilitate the colonization of soil by a wider diversity of fungi than at present, with data from regression models suggesting 20–27% increases in fungal species richness in the southernmost soils by 2100. Such increases in diversity, which provide a sentinel for changes at lower latitudes, are likely to have substantial effects on nutrient cycling and, ultimately, productivity in the species-poor soils of maritime Antarctica.

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Figure 1: Locations of sampling sites along the climatic gradient.
Figure 2: The influence of mean annual surface air temperature on the numbers of soil fungal taxa along the climatic gradient.
Figure 3: The influence of mean annual surface air temperature on the frequencies of eight fungal taxa.
Figure 4: The influence of soil C:N ratio on the frequencies of four fungal taxa.


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Logistical support was provided by the British Antarctic Survey and the Royal Navy (HMS Endurance). V. A. Laudicina, V. Ord, P. Coates, M. Dunn, P. Torode, M. Jobson, A. Clark, J. Wake, D. Hall, G. Marshall, M. Biszczuk and K. Bazeley provided technical support. This work was funded by a UK Natural Environment Research Council Antarctic Funding Initiative grant (NE/D00893X/1; AFI 7/05) led by D.W.H. and a University of Queensland Early Career Researcher Award to P.G.D. All are gratefully acknowledged.

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K.K.N., P.G.D., S.P.R., A.G.O’D. and D.W.H. conceived this study. P.G.D., K.K.N. and D.W.H. collected soil samples, L.C.C. performed DNA extractions and PCRs. P.G.D. processed sequence data and P.G.D. and K.K.N. performed statistical analyses. P.T.F. provided geospatial data derived from the Regional Atmospheric Climate Model. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Paul G. Dennis.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Newsham, K., Hopkins, D., Carvalhais, L. et al. Relationship between soil fungal diversity and temperature in the maritime Antarctic. Nature Clim Change 6, 182–186 (2016).

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