Oral presentation- Open Session 12th International Mammalogical Congress

Scats of a mammalian bioturbator increase the diversity of rhizosphere fungi associated with seedlings of a key forest tree (#259)

Natasha Tay 1 , Anna J. M. Hopkins 1 2 , Katinka X. Ruthrof 1 , Treena Burgess 1 , Giles E. StJ. Hardy 1 , Patricia A. Fleming 1
  1. School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  2. Centre for Ecosystem Management, School of Science, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Mammals provide many ecosystem functions that help maintain the health of their habitat. In Australia, where soils are nutrient-poor, the tripartite interaction between mammals, fungi and plants are particularly vital. Mycorrhizal fungi form mutualistic symbioses with plants, facilitating water and nutrient uptake. Consequently, plant health is often tied to the mycorrhizal fungi community present in soil. The presence of mycophagous animals can alter or maintain rates of mycorrhizal colonisation by the dispersal of spores in their scats. While not obligately mycophagous, scat analyses of quenda (Isoodon obesulus fusciventer) have shown they feed opportunistically on fungi, including many mycorrhizal species. To investigate the viability of quenda as a fungal vector, wild-collected quenda scat was used as a mycorrhizal inoculant to grow a keystone forest tree, Eucalyptus gomphocephala, from seeds under glasshouse conditions. Autoclaved scats were used as a negative-control and sporocarp tissue from known mycorrhizal species as a positive-control inoculant. Seedlings were harvested at ten weeks to assess plant growth, and early mycorrhizal colonisation of roots was determined using Next Generation Sequencing. Seedlings grown in scat inoculant had significantly more diverse assemblages of mycorrhizal fungi compared to negative- and positive-sporocarp controls. However, no difference in shoot or root mass in these young seedlings could be attributed to root fungi assemblages at this early growth stage. Mycorrhizal spores from quenda scat successfully germinated and colonised E. gomphocephala seedling roots. In addition to their bioturbator role, quenda can improve biological activity for forest health by dispersing viable mycorrhizal spores across the landscape.