Separating the effects of environmental factors and spatial distance on microbial composition is difficult when these factors covary. We examined the composition of ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi along elevation gradients on geographically distant mountains to clarify the effect of climate at the regional scale. Soil cores were collected from various forest types along an elevation gradient in southwestern Japan. Fungal species were identified by the internal transcribed spacer regions of the rDNA using direct sequencing. The occurrence of fungal species in this study was compared with a previous study conducted on a mountain separated by ∼550 km. In total, we recorded 454 EM fungi from 330 of 350 soil cores. Forty-seven fungal species (∼20% of the total excluding singletons) were shared between two mountains, mostly between similar forest types on both mountains. Variation partitioning in redundancy analysis revealed that climate explained the largest variance in EM fungal composition. The similarity of forest tree composition, which is usually determined by climatic conditions, was positively correlated with the similarity of the EM fungal composition. However, the lack of large host effects implied that communities of forest trees and EM fungi may be determined independently by climate. Our data provide important insights that host plants and mutualistic fungi may respond to climate change idiosyncratically, potentially altering carbon and nutrient cycles in relation to the plant-fungus associations.
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