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Soil fungi, but not bacteria, track vegetation reassembly across a 30-year restoration chronosequence in the northern jarrah forest, Western Australia

Ducki, Luisa C. (2020) Soil fungi, but not bacteria, track vegetation reassembly across a 30-year restoration chronosequence in the northern jarrah forest, Western Australia. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Plant communities have been the primary focus of ecological restoration initiatives; however, the integration of the soil microbiome has become of interest to restoration practice and theory. The inter-dependent nature of the above- and belowground biological environments has led to assumptions that reciprocal shifts in community compositions will occur in response to disturbance and restoration. Ecological restoration of post-mining landscapes within the northern jarrah forest re-instates vegetation communities that are representative of those in adjacent reference forest. The limited studies of soil microbial communities have not addressed whether these communities recover along similar trajectories to plant communities aboveground. Here, a 30-year restoration chronosequence of vegetation development was compared with that of the belowground assemblages of bacteria and fungi, identified using environmental DNA methods. Novel findings of this study highlight similarities between restoration trajectories of fungal and vegetation assemblages, though both remained distinct from reference jarrah forest compositions after 27-years. In contrast, soil bacterial assemblages in restored jarrah forest re-assembled rapidly, with substrate depth being a greater driver of composition than vegetation. Explanatory environmental variables, such as litter cover and initial fertiliser application, were significantly associated with vegetation composition. High covariance among physico-chemical factors made it difficult to establish influences of individual variables on bacterial and fungal communities. Litter depth was significantly associated with fungal composition across the restoration chronosequence, whilst available potassium was associated with both bacterial and fungal community composition. My findings add to a growing body of literature which acknowledges the rich diversity of the belowground microbial community, and the potential for their use as predictors of restoration trajectories. Future research could focus on direct associations between fungi and plant communities, such as potential for fungal inoculation to assist in the rapid reinstatement of missing plants which rely on symbiotic associations with the belowground microbiome.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Supervisor(s): Standish, Rachel, Miller, B.P. and Krauss, Siegy
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