Discovering the role of Patagonian birds in the dispersal of truffles and other mycorrhizal fungi

Caiafa, Marcos, V; Jusino, Michelle A.; Wilkie, Ann C.; Diaz, Ivan A.; Sieving, Kathryn E.; Smith, Matthew E.


Dispersal is a key process that impacts population dynamics and structures biotic communities. Dispersal limitation influences the assembly of plant and microbial communities, including mycorrhizal fungi and their plant hosts. Mycorrhizal fungi play key ecological roles in forests by feeding nutrients to plants in exchange for sugars, so the dispersal of mycorrhizal fungi spores actively shapes plant communities. Although many fungi rely on wind for spore dispersal, some fungi have lost the ability to shoot their spores into the air and instead produce enclosed belowground fruiting bodies (truffles) that rely on animals for dispersal. The role of mammals in fungal spore dispersal is well documented, but the relevance of birds as dispersal agents of fungi has been understudied, despite the prominence of birds as seed dispersal vectors. Here, we use metagenomics and epifluorescence microscopy to demonstrate that two common, widespread, and endemic Patagonian birds, chucao tapaculos (Scelorchilus rubecula) and black-throated huet-huets (Pteroptochos tarnii), regularly consume mycorrhizal fungi and disperse viable spores via mycophagy. Our metagenomic analysis indicates that these birds routinely consume diverse mycorrhizal fungi, including many truffles, that are symbiotically associated with Nothofagaceae trees that dominate Patagonian forests. Epifluorescence microscopy of fecal samples confirmed that the birds dispersed copious viable spores from truffles and other mycorrhizal fungi. We show that fungi are a common food for both bird species and that this animal-fungi symbiosis is widespread and ecologically important in Patagonia. Our findings indicate that birds may also act as cryptic but critical fungal dispersal agents in other ecosystems.

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Título según WOS: ID WOS:000734318000005 Not found in local WOS DB
Título de la Revista: CURRENT BIOLOGY
Volumen: 31
Número: 24
Editorial: Cell Press
Fecha de publicación: 2021
Página de inicio: 5558
Página final: +


Notas: ISI