Divergent, age-associated fungal communities of Pinus flexilis and Pinus longaeva
The long-lived five-needle pines, Pinus flexilis (limber pine) and Pinus longaeva (Great Basin bristlecone pine) can co-occur and may form symbiotic partnerships with the same species of ectomycorrhizal fungi. These shared symbiotic relationships may facilitate the persistence of these pine species. Throughout their lives, P. flexilis and P. longaeva may also assemble unique belowground fungal communities, adding to the conservation value of ancient trees. We used MiSeq sequencing of fungal rDNA to compare fungal community similarity for co-occurring P. flexilis and P. longaeva roots and soils in an old-growth forest at the Utah Forest Dynamics Plot, Utah, USA. We cored trees to measure their age and determine whether fungal communities change with advanced tree age. We found 720 amplicon sequence variants associated with P. flexilis roots, 736 with P. longaeva roots, and 199 that were shared between the two pines. Root-associated fungal communities were significantly different between P. flexilis and P. longaeva despite similar soil communities. The fungal community composition on P. flexilis roots and around P. longaeva soil was associated with advanced tree age up to 1340 years. The root-associated fungal community of P. flexilis and the soil community of P. longaeva increased in dissimilarity with tree age, indicating that age heterogeneity within old-growth stands promotes fungal diversity. The significant differences in root-associated fungal communities between the two pine species highlights that they are likely engaged in different bi-directional selection with fungal communities.