Understanding the complex mechanisms controlling treeline advance or retreat in the Arctic and Subarctic has important implications for projecting ecosystem response to climate change. Changes in landcover due to a treeline biome shift could alter climate feedbacks and ecosystem services such as wildlife and berry habitat. Major sources of uncertainty in predicting treeline advance or retreat are the controls over seedling establishment at treeline and in tundra. One often-overlooked yet physiologically important factor to seedling establishment is the symbiosis with ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF), the obligate mycobionts of all boreal tree species. EMF provide soil nutrients and water to seedlings and protect against pathogens, enhancing their growth and reducing drought stress. The availability of these critical mycobionts may be limited across the forest-tundra ecotone and by disturbance events such as wildfire. Wildfires are the primary large-scale disturbance in Alaskan boreal forests and are increasingly prevalent in tundra and at treeline. Fire is the major driver of boreal tree seedling recruitment; however, fire also alters the community structure and reduces biomass of EMF, especially after high-severity fires. To investigate the potentially critical role of EMF in seedling establishment at and beyond current treeline in Alaska, I conducted two observational studies and one experimental study that address how fire-severity influences EMF community structure and plant-fungal interactions. These studies indicated that shrubs that survived and resprouted after fires at treeline and in tundra were a source of resilience for EMF diversity and function. Shrubs maintained latesuccessional stage EMF taxa, and the EMF taxa associated with shrubs at treeline were compatible with tree seedlings that naturally established after fire. Many of the EMF taxa that were shared by seedlings and shrubs were present across the low Arctic, suggesting that EMF compatible with boreal tree species are not limited within the predicted geographic range of treeline expansion. Additionally, I found that seedling growth was correlated with post-fire fungal inoculum. Seedling growth was promoted by EMF inoculum provided by resprouting shrubs after fire. However, when fungal inoculum lacked EMF in post-fire tundra soils, seedling biomass was related to the negative effect of soil pathogens and the positive influence of dark septate endophytes. Together these results illustrate the important role of resprouting tundra shrubs as fungal nurse plants for establishment of boreal tree species at and potentially beyond current treeline, and that biotic factors such as EMF-tree interactions are important to seedling performance. My results suggest that the inclusion of biotic effects, like plant-fungal interactions, in simulation models of treeline dynamics will improve the accuracy of predictions of forestation and associated landscape flammability with future warming in Alaska.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2014
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: General introduction -- Chapter 2: Resilience of Arctic mycorrhizal fungal communities after wildfire facilitated by resprouting shrubs -- Chapter 3: Plant-fungal interactions after a novel disturbance in the Arctic: implications for shrub and tree migration -- Chapter 4: Shrub-ectomycorrhizal-seedling interactions facilitate tree establishment after wildfire at the Alaskan boreal treeline -- Chapter 5: General conclusions.
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