Nitrogen deposition changes ectomycorrhizal communities in Swiss beech forests

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Atmospheric pollution has implications for the health and diversity of temperate forests covering large parts of central Europe. Long-term elevated anthropogenic deposition of nitrogen (N) is driving forest ecosystems from the limitation by N to other nutrients and is found to affect tree health and ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF), which most trees depend on for nutrient uptake. However, the consequence of EMF community changes for trees remains unclear. Therefore, we investigated changes in EMF communities on root tips and in soil of beech forests along a N deposition gradient ranging between 16 and 33 kg N ha− 1 a− 1, where high N deposition was found to negatively affect tree growth and nutrient levels. The most important factors significantly explaining variation in root tip and mycelium EMF community composition in both root tips and mesh bags were increased N deposition, base saturation, growing season temperature and precipitation. With increasing N deposition, fine root length, EMF root colonization, EMF diversity on root tips and in soil, and production of extramatrical mycelium decreased significantly. Foliar P and potassium (K) were positively associated with increasing EMF diversity and we found EMF community composition to be associated with foliar P and N:P ratio. The decrease in root colonization, mesh bag ingrowth and abundance of the important species Cenococcum geophilum as well as high biomass species with increasing N availability clearly indicate repercussions for belowground carbon allocation, although some indicator species for high N deposition and low foliar P have long mycelia and may reflect a potential optimization of host P uptake. Our study supports the hypothesis that the decrease in nutrient uptake in beech forests across Europe is related to changes in EMF communities and suggests that continued high N deposition changes soil carbon and nutrient cycles, thereby affecting forest ecosystem health.


  • L. C. de Witte
  • N. P. Rosenstock
  • S. van der Linde
  • S. Braun
External organisations
  • Imperial College London
  • Institute for Applied Plant Biology, Switzerland
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Geochemistry
  • Microbiology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1083-1096
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Dec 15
Publication categoryResearch