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Forest Ecology and Management





Hurricanes impact forests by damaging trees and altering multiple ecosystem functions. As such, predicting which individuals are likely to be most affected has crucial economic importance as well as conservation value. Tree stem-inhabiting fungal communities, notably rot-causing agents, have been mentioned as a potential factor of tree predisposition to hurricane damage, but this assumption remains poorly explored. To examine this relationship, we sampled the stem wood of intact and damaged trees shortly after Hurricane Maria in a Puerto Rican dry tropical forest in 2017. We categorized samples depending on two types: trees with intact stems and trees in which stems were snapped. We extracted fungal environmental DNA of wood from 40 samples consisting of four different tree species. Fungal community taxonomic and functional richness and composition was assessed using high-throughput DNA metabarcoding. We found that snapped trees harbored significantly higher fungal operational taxonomic unit (OTU) richness than the intact trees and that the composition of the stem-inhabiting fungal communities diverged consistently between intact and snapped trees. On average, snapped trees’ fungal communities were relatively enriched in “other saprotrophs” guild category and depleted in endophytes. Conversely, intact trees had high relative abundances of Clonostachys, a mycoparasitic endophyte, suggesting that endophytic fungi might act as biocontrols in tree stems. Overall, our results support the hypothesis that stem-inhabiting fungal communities could represent a predisposition factor of tree damage caused by hurricanes in tropical dry forests.


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