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Emergent Behavior of Soil Fungal Dynamics: Influence of Soil Architecture and Water Distribution

Falconer, Ruth E.1; Houston, Alasdair N.1; Otten, Wilfred1; Baveye, Philippe C.1,2

doi: 10.1097/SS.0b013e318241133a
Technical Article

Abstract: Macroscopic measurements and observations in two-dimensional soil-thin sections indicate that fungal hyphae invade preferentially the larger, air-filled pores in soils. This suggests that the architecture of soils and the microscale distribution of water are likely to influence significantly the dynamics of fungal growth. Unfortunately, techniques are lacking at present to verify this hypothesis experimentally, and as a result, factors that control fungal growth in soils remain poorly understood. Nevertheless, to design appropriate experiments later on, it is useful to indirectly obtain estimates of the effects involved. Such estimates can be obtained via simulation, based on detailed micron-scale X-ray computed tomography information about the soil pore geometry. In this context, this article reports on a series of simulations resulting from the combination of an individual-based fungal growth model, describing in detail the physiological processes involved in fungal growth, and of a Lattice Boltzmann model used to predict the distribution of air-liquid interfaces in soils. Three soil samples with contrasting properties were used as test cases. Several quantitative parameters, including Minkowski functionals, were used to characterize the geometry of pores, air-water interfaces, and fungal hyphae. Simulation results show that the water distribution in the soils is affected more by the pore size distribution than by the porosity of the soils. The presence of water decreased the colonization efficiency of the fungi, as evinced by a decline in the magnitude of all fungal biomass functional measures, in all three samples. The architecture of the soils and water distribution had an effect on the general morphology of the hyphal network, with a “looped” configuration in one soil, due to growing around water droplets. These morphologic differences are satisfactorily discriminated by the Minkowski functionals, applied to the fungal biomass.

1SIMBIOS Centre, Bell Street, Dundee, University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland, DD1 1HG, UK. Dr. Ruth E. Falconer is corresponding author. E-mail:

2Soil and Water Engineering Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jonsson Engineering Center, Troy, New York.

Received February 1, 2011.

Accepted for publication November 08, 2011.

Financial Disclosures/Conflicts of Interest: The authors acknowledge support from SAGES, the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society (to R.E.F. and W.O.).

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.