Studying patterns of species distributions along elevation gradients is frequently used to identify the primary factors that determine the distribution, diversity and assembly of species. However, despite their crucial role in ecosystem functioning, our understanding of the distribution of below-ground fungi is still limited, calling for more comprehensive studies of fungal biogeography along environmental gradients at various scales (from regional to global). Here, we investigated the richness of taxa of soil fungi and their phylogenetic diversity across a wide range of grassland types along a 2800 m elevation gradient at a large number of sites (213), stratified across a region of the western Swiss Alps (700 km2). We used 454 pyro-sequencing to obtain fungal sequences that were clustered into operational taxonomic units (OTUs). The OTU diversity-area relationship revealed uneven distribution of fungal taxa across the study area (i.e. not all taxa are everywhere) and fine-scale spatial clustering. Fungal richness and phylogenetic diversity were found to be higher in lower temperatures and higher moisture conditions. Climatic and soil characteristics as well as plant community composition were related to OTU alpha, beta and phylogenetic diversity, with distinct fungal lineages suggesting distinct ecological tolerances. Soil fungi, thus, show lineage-specific biogeographic patterns, even at a regional scale, and follow environmental determinism, mediated by interactions with other taxonomic groups, such as plants. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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