Ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi play major ecological roles in temperate and tropical ecosystems. Although the richness of ECM fungal communities and the factors controlling their structure have been documented at local spatial scales, how they vary at larger spatial scales remains unclear. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Tedersoo (2012) present the results of a meta-analysis of ECM fungal community structure that sheds important new light on global-scale patterns. Using data from 69 study systems and 6021 fungal species, the researchers found that ECM fungal richness does not fit the classic latitudinal diversity gradient in which species richness peaks at lower latitudes. Instead, richness of ECM fungal communities has a unimodal relationship with latitude that peaks in temperate zones. Intriguingly, this conclusion suggests the mechanisms driving ECM fungal community richness may differ from those of many other organisms, including their plant hosts. Future research will be key to determine the robustness of this pattern and to examine the processes that generate and maintain global-scale gradients of ECM fungal richness.
- community ecology
- environmental DNA