Dead or alive; Or does it really matter? Level of congruency between trophic modes in total and active fungal communities in high arctic soil

Magdalena Wutkowska, Anna Vader, Sunil Mundra, Elisabeth J. Cooper, Pernille B. Eidesen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Describing dynamics of belowground organisms, such as fungi, can be challenging. Results of studies based on environmental DNA (eDNA) may be biased as the template does not discriminate between metabolically active cells and dead biomass. We analyzed ribosomal DNA (rDNA) and ribosomal RNA (rRNA) coextracted from 48 soil samples collected from a manipulated snow depth experiment in two distinct vegetation types in Svalbard, in the High Arctic. Our main goal was to compare if the rDNA and rRNA metabarcoding templates produced congruent results that would lead to consistent ecological interpretation. Data derived from both rDNA and rRNA clustered according to vegetation types. Different sets of environmental variables explained the community composition based on the metabarcoding template. rDNA and rRNA-derived community composition of symbiotrophs and saprotrophs, unlike pathotrophs, clustered together in a similar way as when the community composition was analyzed using all OTUs in the study. Mean OTU richness was higher for rRNA, especially in symbiotrophs. The metabarcoding template was more important than vegetation type in explaining differences in richness. The proportion of symbiotrophic, saprotrophic and functionally unassigned reads differed between rDNA and rRNA, but showed similar trends. There was no evidence for increased snow depth influence on fungal community composition or richness. Our findings suggest that template choice may be especially important for estimating biodiversity, such as richness and relative abundances, especially in Helotiales and Agaricales, but not for inferring community composition. Differences in study results originating from rDNA or rRNA may directly impact the ecological conclusions of one's study, which could potentially lead to false conclusions on the dynamics of microbial communities in a rapidly changing Arctic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3243
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJAN
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Arctic vegetation
  • Below-ground processes
  • Fungal functional group
  • Fungal trophic mode
  • Snow fences
  • Snow regime

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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