The endangered northern bettong, Bettongia tropica, performs a unique and potentially irreplaceable dispersal role for truffle ectomycorrhizal fungi

Nuske, Susan J., Anslan, Sten, Tedersoo, Leho, Bonner, Mark T.L., Congdon, Brad C., and Abell, Sandra E. (2018) The endangered northern bettong, Bettongia tropica, performs a unique and potentially irreplaceable dispersal role for truffle ectomycorrhizal fungi. Molecular Ecology, 27 (3). pp. 4960-4971.

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View at Publisher Website: https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.14916
 
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Abstract

Organisms that are highly connected in food webs often perform unique and vital functions within ecosystems. Understanding the unique ecological roles played by highly connected organisms and the consequences of their loss requires a comprehensive understanding of the functional redundancy among organisms. One important, yet poorly understood, food web is that between truffle‐forming ectomycorrhizal fungi and their mammalian consumers and dispersers. Mammalian fungal specialists rely on fungi as a food source, and they consume and disperse a higher diversity and abundance of fungi than do mycophagous mammals with generalist diets. Therefore, we hypothesise that mammalian fungal specialists are functionally distinct because they disperse a set of fungal taxa not fully nested within the set consumed by the combined generalist mammalian community (i.e. functional redundancy of fungal dispersal is limited). Using high‐throughput sequencing, we compared the fungal composition of 93 scats from the endangered fungal specialist northern bettong (Bettongia tropica) and 120 scats from nine co‐occurring generalist mammal species across three sites and three seasons. Compared with other generalist mammals, B. tropica consumed a more diverse fungal diet with more unique taxa. This aligns with our hypothesis that B. tropica performs a unique dispersal function for ectomycorrhizal truffle fungi. Additionally, modelling of mammalian extinctions predicted rapid loss of food web connections which could result in loss of gene flow for truffle taxa. Our results suggest that this system is sensitive to the extinction of highly connected specialist species like B. tropica and their loss could have consequences for ectomycorrhizal truffle fungal diversity. This suggests that the conservation of fungal specialists is imperative to maintaining ectomycorrhizal fungal diversity and healthy plant‐mycorrhizal relationships.

Item ID: 55743
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-294X
Keywords: Bettongia tropica; functional redundancy; dispersal; truffle fungi; metabarcoding; food web
Funders: World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA), Australasian Mycological Society
Projects and Grants: WWF Australian Government's Caring for Our Country grants program, Australian Postgraduate Award, WTMA student grant 916, Australasian Mycological Society Research Award
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2018 00:35
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060207 Population Ecology @ 60%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0604 Genetics > 060411 Population, Ecological and Evolutionary Genetics @ 40%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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