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Open Access Research article

Effects of Bromelia pinguin (Bromeliaceae) on soil ecosystem function and fungal diversity in the lowland forests of Costa Rica

Caitlin I Looby1 and William D Eaton2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California-Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA

2 Biology Department, Pace University, New York, NY 10038, USA

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BMC Ecology 2014, 14:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-14-12

Published: 5 May 2014

Abstract

Background

Bromelia pinguin (Bromeliaceae) is a terrestrial bromeliad commonly found under forest stands throughout the Neotropics that has been shown to have antifungal activity in vitro. We have hypothesized that this bromeliad would also have an effect on the fungal populations in nearby soil by decreasing fungaldiversity and negatively impacting C and N cycle-related activities. A previous study in the lowland forest of Costa Rica showed the soil beneath these bromeliads had decreased fungal ITS DNA and differences in C and N levels compared to adjacent primary forest soils.

Results

In this follow-up study, we found that the bromeliad soils had lower rates of C and N biomass development and lower phenol oxidase activity (suggesting less decreased fungal decomposition activity). The results of T-RFLP and cloning-based taxonomic analyses showed the community level diversity and abundance of fungal ITS DNA was less in bromeliad soils. Sequence analysis of fungal ITS DNA clones showed marked differences in fungal community structure between habitats of Basidiomycota (Tremellales, Agricales, Thelephorales), Ascomycota (Helotiales), and Zycomycota populations.

Conclusions

The data show there to be differences in the soil nutrient dynamics and fungal community structure and activity associated with these bromeliads, as compared to the adjacent primary forest. This suggests the possibility that the anti-fungal activity of the bromeliad extends into the soil. The bromeliad-dense regions of these primary forest habitats provide a unique natural micro-habitat within the forests and the opportunity to better identify the role of fungal communities in the C and N cycles in tropical soils.

Keywords:
Carbon biomass; Nitrogen biomass; Bromelia pinguin; Fungal diversity; Soil ecosystems