Although decades of research have typically demonstrated a positive correlation between biodiversity of primary producers and associated trophic levels, the ecological drivers of this association are poorly understood. Recent evidence suggests that the plant microbiome, or the fungi and bacteria found on and inside plant hosts, may be cryptic yet important drivers of important processes, including primary production and trophic interactions. Here, using high-throughput sequencing, we characterized foliar fungal community diversity, composition, and function from 15 broadleaved tree species (N
= 545) in a recently established, large-scale temperate tree diversity experiment using over 17,000 seedlings. Specifically, we tested whether increases in tree richness and phylogenetic diversity would increase fungal endophyte diversity (the “Diversity Begets Diversity” hypothesis), as well as alter community composition (the “Tree Diversity–Endophyte Community” hypothesis) and function (the “Tree Diversity–Endophyte Function” hypothesis) at different spatial scales. We demonstrated that increasing tree richness and phylogenetic diversity decreased
fungal species and functional guild richness and diversity, including pathogens, saprotrophs, and parasites, within the first three years of a forest diversity experiment. These patterns were consistent at the neighborhood and tree plot scale. Our results suggest that fungal endophytes, unlike other trophic levels (e.g., herbivores as well as epiphytic bacteria), respond negatively to increasing plant diversity.
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