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Title: Arctic-Alpine ectomycorrhizal fungi in Scotland : the ecology of unexplored fungal communities and threats to their survival
Author: Hesling, Emily
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2013
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Arctic and alpine habitats are experiencing rapid change under the influences of climate change, land use and elevated nitrogen deposition both in the UK and globally. They are inhabited by ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi which perform a critical role supplying a suite of obligately dependent shrubs with nutrients required for survival and growth, in what are typically nutrient poor and climatically harsh habitats. However, there is little data on ECM fungi in the montane zone of Scotland. Communities of arctic-alpine ECM fungi were identified with DNA metabarcoding methods using high throughput sequencing of ECM plant root material and soil. To supplement the taxonomic resolution of these analyses, fungal sporocarps were also collected, described and sequenced to produce identified, habitat-relevant reference sequences. Surveys were conducted over 23 sites spanning the Scottish Highlands (hosts including Arctostaphylos alpinus, A. uva-ursi, Betula nana and Salix herbacea), also including an altitudinal gradient study, and an analysis of a long term experiment in a low-alpine heath testing the influences of heath burning, nitrogen addition and warming. Surveys detected 257 ECM fungal taxa including 23 species new to science and 28 new species for the UK, likely representing the highest degree of novelty of macro-organisms discovered in a terrestrial habitat in recent British history. At least 80 ECM species appear restricted to arctic-alpine habitats in Scotland, and ECM communities associated with alpine dwarf shrubs appear to be comparably or more species rich than those in native Caledonian Pinewoods. ECM fungi were found to have distinct altitudinal niches and biogeographies, with communities significantly influenced by oceanicity at a national scale. Extensive fragmentation and continued degradation of montane dwarf shrub populations through prescribed burning and over-grazing threaten the survival of these highly diverse fungal communities by reducing their resilience in the face of a changing climate.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available