U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version



Ecosphere. 2022;13:e3936.

DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.3936


U.S. government work


Fungi that bind leaf litter into mats and produce white-rot via degradation of lignin and other aromatic compounds influence forest nutrient cycling and soil fertility. Extent of white-rot litter mats formed by basidiomycete fungi in Puerto Rico decreased in response to disturbances—a simulated hurricane treatment executed by canopy trimming and debris addition in 2014, a drought in 2015, a treefall, and two hurricanes 10 days apart in September 2017. Percent fungal litter mat cover ranged from 0.4% after Hurricanes Irma and Maria to a high of 53% in forest with undisturbed canopy prior to the 2017 hurricanes, with means mostly between 10% and 45% of fungal litter mat cover in undisturbed forest. Drought decreased litter mat cover in both treatments, except in one control plot dominated by a drought-resistant fungus, Marasmius crinis-equi. Percent fungal litter mat cover sharply declined after hurricanes, a treefall, and a simulated hurricane treatment. Solar radiation was significantly inversely correlated with relative humidity (RH) and percent litter mat cover within each of the four climatic seasons. Solar radiation was also directly correlated with prior month litterfall, while RH was moderately correlated with throughfall, rain, and litter wetness. However, rainfall was inversely correlated with litter mat cover, possibly due to erosion or saturation during high rainfall events. Canopy opening reduced leaf fall and litter mat cover but these variables were not correlated except in winter. The main factor inhibiting basidiomycete fungi that bind leaf litter into mats was likely lower litter moisture associated with drought and increased solar radiation from canopy opening but secondary compounds in green litterfall may have contributed. Although higher litterfall likely increases fungal mat cover under closed canopy, changes in environmental factors apparently had a stronger inhibitory effect following canopy disturbances. Drought tolerance of some basidiomycete fungal litter mat species provided some resilience to drought.