Effect of bulk density on the spatial organisation of the fungus Rhizoctonia solani in soil
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The mycelial growth form of eucarpic fungi allows for a highly effective spatial exploration of the soil habitat. However, understanding mycelial spread through soil has been limited by difficulties of observation and quantification of fungi as they spread through this matrix. We report on a study on the effects of soil structure by altering the soil bulk density, on the spatial exploration of soil by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani using a soil thin-sectioning technique. First we quantified fungal densities in microscopic images (0.44 mm2). At this scale, hyphae were either absent, or present as minor fragments, typically occupying less than 1% surface area of the thin section. From contiguous microscopic images we then produced large-scale (6.21 cm2) spatial distribution maps of fungal hyphae. These maps were superimposed onto soil structural maps, which quantify the degree of porosity in each microscopic image. Alterations in soil structure by changing the bulk density are shown to affect the distribution of the fungus within the soil. The volume of soil explored by the fungus increased with increasing bulk density. This was associated with a shift from a few large pore spaces to more evenly distributed small-scale pores. Fungal hyphae were present in all porosity classes within each bulk density, including areas that contain less than 5% visible pore space. However, fungal hyphae were more often found in areas with a higher porosity, in particular at low soil bulk densities. The results show that soil structure is a major component in the spatial exploration of soil by fungi.