Increasing evidence suggests that specific interactions between microbial decomposers and plant litter, named home field advantage (HFA), influence litter breakdown. However, we still have limited understanding of whether HFA relates to specific microbiota, and whether specialized microbes originate from the soil or from the leaf microbiome. Here, we disentangle the roles of soil origin, litter types, and the microbial community already present on the leaf litter in determining fungal community composition on decomposing leaf litter and HFA.
We collected litters and associated soil samples from a secondary succession gradient ranging from herbaceous vegetation on recently abandoned ex‐arable fields to forest representing the end stage of succession. In a greenhouse, sterilized and unsterilized leaf litters were decomposed for 12 months in soils from early to late successional stages according to a full factorial design. At the end, we examined fungal community composition on the decomposing litter.
Fungal communities on decomposed late‐successional litter in late‐successional soil differed from those in early‐ and mid‐successional stage litter and soil combinations. Soil source had the strongest impact on litter fungal composition when using sterilized litter, while the impact of litter type was strongest when using unsterilized litter. Overall, we observed HFA, as litter decomposition was accelerated in home soils. Increasing HFA did not relate to the dissimilarity in overall fungal composition, but there was increasing dissimilarity in the relative abundance of the most dominant fungal taxon between decomposing litter in home and away soils.
We conclude that early, mid and late succession litter types did not exert strong selection effects on colonization by microorganisms from the soil species pool. Instead, fungal community composition on decomposing litter differed substantially between litter types for unsterilized litter, suggesting that the leaf microbiome, either directly or indirectly, is an important determinant of fungal community composition on decomposing leaves. HFA related most strongly to the abundance of the most dominant fungal taxa on the decomposing litter, suggesting that HFA may be attributed to some specific dominant fungi rather than to responses of the whole fungal community.