The underappreciated role of rodent generalists in fungal spore dispersal networks.

Academic Article


  • Animals are often the primary dispersers of seeds and fungal spores. Specialist species that consume fruits or fungal fruiting bodies (sporocarps) as their main food source are thought to play a more important role in dispersal networks compared to generalist species. However, dispersal networks are often based on occurrence data, overlooking the influence of animal abundance and dispersal effectiveness on network interactions. Using rodent-mycorrhizal fungi networks, we determined how diet specialization and abundance influence the role of rodent species in dispersing fungal spores in temperate forests of northern New Hampshire, USA. We tracked the interactions of five rodent species and 34 fungal taxa over a 3-yr period across hardwood, mixed, and softwood forest stands. We accounted for fluctuations in rodent abundance and differences in the number of spores dispersed in rodent scat. Myodes gapperi, a fungal specialist, dispersed a more diverse spore community than rodent generalists and was consistently the most important disperser in forest types with high fungal availability. Nevertheless, during years when generalist species such as Tamias striatus and Peromyscus maniculatus reached high abundance, their relative importance (species strength) in networks approached or even surpassed that of M. gapperi, particularly in forest types where M. gapperi was less common and fungal availability was low. Increased numbers of generalists enhanced network interaction diversity and the number of fungal taxa dispersed, the timing of which was coincident with seedling establishment following masting, a stage when inoculation by mycorrhizal fungi is critical for growth and survival. Our findings suggest that although specialists play key roles in dispersing mycorrhizal fungal spores, generalists play a heretofore underappreciated role.
  • Authors

  • Stephens, Ryan B
  • Rowe, Rebecca
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • April 2020
  • Published In

  • Ecology  Journal
  • Keywords

  • Animals
  • Forests
  • Mycorrhizae
  • New Hampshire
  • Rodentia
  • Seed Dispersal
  • Spores, Fungal
  • White Mountain National Forest
  • fungal dispersal
  • fungivory
  • mutualistic network
  • network dynamics
  • resource pulse
  • rodent abundance
  • species interactions
  • truffle
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 31943145
  • Start Page

  • e02972
  • Volume

  • 101
  • Issue

  • 4