Plant geographic origin and phylogeny as potential drivers of community structure in root-inhabiting fungi.
Root-inhabiting fungal communities, including mutualists and antagonists, influence host plant performance, and can potentially shape plant community composition. However, there is uncertainty about how root-inhabiting fungal communities are structured, and if fungal community characteristics are significant predictors of host plant abundance. In this study, we first assessed how root-inhabiting fungal communities were structured in relation to the phylogeny and geographic origins (native vs. exotic) of their host plants in an old-field community. In addition, we took into consideration the spatial arrangements (i.e. physical locations) of the individual host plants. We then tested if the relative abundances of pathogenic and beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi could predict host plant abundances. We found that host plant phylogeny was an important factor in structuring the whole fungal community, irrespective of host plant origin. Furthermore, the spatial arrangements of individual host plants were a strong predictor of AM fungal community structure. Host plant phylogeny and spatial arrangements appeared to similarly affect the structure of pathogenic fungal communities. No distinct differences were observed between native and exotic plant species in fungal community characteristics. The relative abundances of AM and pathogenic fungi were not significant predictors for observed abundances of their host plants. Synthesis. Host plant phylogeny and spatial arrangements can structure naturally occurring root-inhabiting fungal communities. The absence of distinct differences in fungal community composition, including pathogens, in exotic and native plants suggests long residence times and the consequent naturalization of exotic species in the region, allowing for the establishment of similar plant-microbial interactions between native and exotic species.