Compositional divergence and convergence in arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities

T. Caruso*, S. Hempel, J. R. Powell, E. K. Barto, M. C. Rillig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


In spite of the controversy that they have generated, neutral models provide ecologists with powerful tools for creating dynamic predictions about beta-diversity in ecological communities. Ecologists can achieve an understanding of the assembly rules operating in nature by noting when and how these predictions are met or not met. This is particularly valuable for those groups of organisms that are challenging to study under natural conditions (e.g., bacteria and fungi). Here, we focused on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) communities and performed an extensive literature search that allowed us to synthesize the information in 19 data sets with the minimal requisites for creating a null hypothesis in terms of community dissimilarity expected under neutral dynamics. In order to achieve this task, we calculated the first estimates of neutral parameters for several AMF communities from different ecosystems. Communities were shown either to be consistent with neutrality or to diverge or converge with respect to the levels of compositional dissimilarity expected under neutrality. These data support the hypothesis that divergence occurs in systems where the effect of limited dispersal is overwhelmed by anthropogenic disturbance or extreme biological and environmental heterogeneity, whereas communities converge when systems have the potential for niche divergence within a relatively homogeneous set of environmental conditions. Regarding the study cases that were consistent with neutrality, the sampling designs employed may have covered relatively homogeneous environments in which the effects of dispersal limitation overwhelmed minor differences among AMF taxa that would lead to environmental filtering. Using neutral models we showed for the first time for a soil microbial group the conditions under which different assembly processes may determine different patterns of beta-diversity. Our synthesis is an important step showing how the application of general ecological theories to a model microbial taxon has the potential to shed light on the assembly and ecological dynamics of communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1124
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • beta-diversity
  • T-RFLP
  • SOIL
  • niche
  • assembly rules
  • arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities
  • neutrality
  • stochasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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