Fungal community structure and function shifts with atmospheric nitrogen deposition

Jessica A.M. Moore, Mark A. Anthony, Gregory J. Pec, Lidia K. Trocha, Artur Trzebny, Kevin M. Geyer, Linda T.A. van Diepen, Serita D. Frey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Fungal decomposition of soil organic matter depends on soil nitrogen (N) availability. This ecosystem process is being jeopardized by changes in N inputs that have resulted from a tripling of atmospheric N deposition in the last century. Soil fungi are impacted by atmospheric N deposition due to higher N availability, as soils are acidified, or as micronutrients become increasingly limiting. Fungal communities that persist with chronic N deposition may be enriched with traits that enable them to tolerate environmental stress, which may trade-off with traits enabling organic matter decomposition. We hypothesized that fungal communities would respond to N deposition by shifting community composition and functional gene abundances toward those that tolerate stress but are weak decomposers. We sampled soils at seven eastern US hardwood forests where ambient N deposition varied from 3.2 to 12.6 kg N ha−1 year−1, five of which also have experimental plots where atmospheric N deposition was simulated through fertilizer application treatments (25–50 kg N ha−1 year−1). Fungal community and functional responses to fertilizer varied across the ambient N deposition gradient. Fungal biomass and richness increased with simulated N deposition at sites with low ambient deposition and decreased at sites with high ambient deposition. Fungal functional genes involved in hydrolysis of organic matter increased with ambient N deposition while genes involved in oxidation of organic matter decreased. One of four genes involved in generalized abiotic stress tolerance increased with ambient N deposition. In summary, we found that the divergent response to simulated N deposition depended on ambient N deposition levels. Fungal biomass, richness, and oxidative enzyme potential were reduced by N deposition where ambient N deposition was high suggesting fungal communities were pushed beyond an environmental stress threshold. Fungal community structure and function responses to N enrichment depended on ambient N deposition at a regional scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1349-1364
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • atmospheric nitrogen deposition
  • fungi
  • global change
  • soil ecology
  • target-probe enrichment
  • temperate forest ecosystems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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