Early chemical changes during wood decomposition are controlled by fungal communities inhabiting stems at treefall in a tropical dry forest

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Plant and Soil


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A better knowledge of how deadwood decomposes is critical for accurately characterizing carbon and nutrient cycling in forests. Fungi dominate this decomposition process, but we still have limited understanding of fungal community structuring that ultimately controls the fate of wood decomposition. This is particularly true in tropical ecosystems. To address this knowledge gap, our study capitalized on an extreme storm event that caused a large and synchronized input of deadwood to the forest floor.


Here we report data for the first year of wood decomposition of trees in a Puerto Rican dry forest for nine tree species that were snapped by Hurricane Maria in 2017. We measured wood properties and the associated fungal communities after 12 months of decomposition and compared them with initial wood properties and stem-inhabiting fungal communities to identify the best predictors of wood decomposition rates and chemical changes.


Changes in wood chemistry were primarily explained by rapid xylan losses, the main hemicellulose component for the studied tree species. Fungal communities were dominated by saprotrophic and plant pathogenic fungi and showed moderate changes over time. The initial relative abundances and ratios of different fungal functional guilds were significant predictors of both xylan and glucan losses, with plant pathogenic fungi accelerating cellulose and hemicellulose decomposition rates compared to saprotrophs.


Our results confirm that fungi present at the time of treefall are strong drivers of wood decomposition and suggest that plant pathogenic fungi might act as efficient early decomposers of hemicellulose in dry tropical forests.