Small forest dwelling mammals are considered to be major consumers and vectors of hypogeous ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi, which have lost the ability of active spore discharge. Fungal spore dispersal by mycophagy is deemed an important process involved in forest regeneration, resilience and vitality, primarily based on evidence from Australia and the Pacific Northwestern USA, but is poorly known for Central European mountainous forests thus far. Small mammal mycophagy was investigated by live trapping and microscopical analysis of faecal samples. All small mammal species recorded (Myodes glareolus, Microtus agrestis, Pitymys subterraneus, Apodemus spp., Glis glis, Sorex spp.) had ingested spores of ECM fungi, albeit in varying amounts. My. glareolus was found to be the most important vector of ECM fungal spores, both in quantity and diversity. Species of the genus Sorex seem to play a hitherto underestimated role as dispersers of fungal spores. Glis glis is likely to be an important vector owing to its large home range. Hypogeous ECM basidiomycetes accounted for most spores found in the faecal samples. The frequency of various genera of hypogeous ECM ascomycetes and ECM epigeous fungi was much lower. Comparison with null models indicated a non-random structure of the mycophagy network similar to other mutualistic bipartite networks. Mycophagy can be considered (1) to contribute to nutrition of small forest mammals, (2) to play a pivotal role for forest regeneration and functioning by providing mycorrhizal inoculum to tree seedlings and (3) to be vital for reproduction and diversity of the still poorly known hypogeous fungi.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Apr 1, 2012
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