Rapid changes in the chemical composition of degrading ectomycorrhizal fungal necromass

Maeve E. Ryan, Kathryn M. Schreiner, Jenna T. Swenson, Joseph Gagne, Peter G. Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Characterizing the chemical changes in fungal necromass as it degrades, particularly over short time intervals (days to weeks), is critical to clearly understanding how this organic matter source contributes to various belowground carbon and nutrient pools. Using a range of chemical analyses, we assessed the degradation of four types of ectomycorrhizal fungal necromass from three species differing in biochemical composition. Samples were buried in a forest in Minnesota, USA and harvested at eight time points over a 90-day incubation period (1, 2, 4, 7, 14, 28, 60, 90 days). Three of the necromass types lost greater than 50% of their initial mass in the first seven days, but mass loss plateaued for all four types at later harvests, and after 90 days, none of the samples were completely degraded. Relative to undegraded necromass, degraded necromass consistently contained a lower relative abundance of aliphatic compounds and a higher relative abundance of carbohydrates, sterols, and aromatic compounds. For three of the four necromass types, nitrogen content was lower after 90 days of degradation and FTIR spectra revealed distinct peaks broadening from day 0 to day 90. While melanin content significantly slowed degradation within species, differences in degradation rates across species were more closely aligned with initial nitrogen content. Collectively, our results indicate that the rapid mass loss of dead fungal mycelium is accompanied by a wide range of changes in necromass chemistry, likely contributing to both short-term soil nutrient and longer-term carbon pools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100922
JournalFungal Ecology
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Decomposition
  • Melanin
  • Mycorrhizal fungi
  • Necromass chemistry
  • Soil organic matter

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