Network traits predict ecological strategies in fungi

C. A. Aguilar-Trigueros, L. Boddy, M. C. Rillig & M. D. Fricker 
ISME Communications volume 2, Article number: 2 (2022)

Colonization of terrestrial environments by filamentous fungi relies on their ability to form networks that can forage for and connect resource patches. Despite the importance of these networks, ecologists rarely consider network features as functional traits because their measurement and interpretation are conceptually and methodologically difficult. To address these challenges, we have developed a pipeline to translate images of fungal mycelia, from both micro- and macro-scales, to weighted network graphs that capture ecologically relevant fungal behaviour. We focus on four properties that we hypothesize determine how fungi forage for resources, specifically: connectivity; relative construction cost; transport efficiency; and robustness against attack by fungivores. Constrained ordination and Pareto front analysis of these traits revealed that foraging strategies can be distinguished predominantly along a gradient of connectivity for micro- and macro-scale mycelial networks that is reminiscent of the qualitative ‘phalanx’ and ‘guerilla’ descriptors previously proposed in the literature. At one extreme are species with many inter-connections that increase the paths for multidirectional transport and robustness to damage, but with a high construction cost; at the other extreme are species with an opposite phenotype. Thus, we propose this approach represents a significant advance in quantifying ecological strategies for fungi using network information.

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