Comprehensive sampling of an isolated dune system demonstrates clear patterns in soil fungal communities across a successional gradient

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Coastal sand dunes are extremely dynamic ecosystems, characterized by stark ecological succession gradients. Dune stabilization is mainly attributed to plant growth, but the establishment and survival of dune-inhabiting vegetation is closely linked to soil microorganisms and to the ecological functions they fulfill. Fungi are particularly important in this context, as some interact intimately with plant roots, while others are critical to soil structure and nutrient availability.

Our study aimed to describe wholly fungal diversity and community composition in a secluded coastal dune ecosystem at eight different stages of succession. We comprehensively sampled a relic foredune plain, which is part of an archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (Québec, Canada), by collecting soils from 80 sites and measuring soil characteristics. Soil fungal communities were characterized by pyrosequencing, followed by taxonomic classification and assignment of putative roles. Even though we did not observe clear patterns in diversity, we were able to detect distinct taxonomic and community composition signatures across succession stages, which seemed to translate into variations in fungal life strategies. Our results show that a taxonomically and functionally diverse fungal community exists at each dune succession stage, even in the barren foredunes.

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