Table_7_Precipitation, Not Land Use, Primarily Determines the Composition of Both Plant and Phyllosphere Fungal Communities.docx
Plant communities and fungi inhabiting their phyllospheres change along precipitation gradients and often respond to changes in land use. Many studies have focused on the changes in foliar fungal communities on specific plant species, however, few have addressed the association between whole plant communities and their phyllosphere fungi. We sampled plant communities and associated phyllosphere fungal communities in native prairie remnants and post-agricultural sites across the steep precipitation gradient in the central plains in Kansas, USA. Plant community cover data and MiSeq ITS2 metabarcode data of the phyllosphere fungal communities indicated that both plant and fungal community composition respond strongly to mean annual precipitation (MAP), but less so to land use (native prairie remnants vs. post-agricultural sites). However, plant and fungal diversity were greater in the native remnant prairies than in post-agricultural sites. Overall, both plant and fungal diversity increased with MAP and the communities in the arid and mesic parts of the gradient were distinct. Analyses of the linkages between plant and fungal communities (Mantel and Procrustes tests) identified strong correlations between the composition of the two. However, despite the strong correlations, regression models with plant richness, diversity, or composition (ordination axis scores) and land use as explanatory variables for fungal diversity and evenness did not improve the models compared to those with precipitation and land use (ΔAIC < 2), even though the explanatory power of some plant variables was greater than that of MAP as measured by R2. Indicator taxon analyses suggest that grass species are the primary taxa that differ in the plant communities. Similar analyses of the phyllosphere fungi indicated that many plant pathogens are disproportionately abundant either in the arid or mesic environments. Although decoupling the drivers of fungal communities and their composition – whether abiotic or host-dependent – remains a challenge, our study highlights the distinct community responses to precipitation and the tight tracking of the plant communities by their associated fungal symbionts.