Truffle abundance and mycophagy by northern flying squirrels in eastern Washington forests

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Biological Sciences

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Although much is known about truffle abundance and rodent mycophagy in mesic Douglas-fir forests in the Pacific Northwest, few data are available for dry interior montane forests dominated by ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and grand fir (Abies grandis). Our objective was to quantify the relationship between the abundance and diversity of ectomycorrhizal fungal sporocarps in the soil and in the diets of northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) in low-elevation forests of the eastern Washington Cascades. We randomly sampled four stands each of three cover types: dry open ponderosa pine, mesic young mixed-conifer forest, and mesic mature mixed-conifer forest. We sampled the soil for hypogeous sporocarps during the spring of 1999 and 2000. We collected fecal pellets from 318 flying squirrels live-trapped during the fall of 1997–2000. We sampled 2400 m2 of soil surface and found truffles in 40% of 600 plots. Total biomass collected was 609 g. Spring truffle biomass on a kg/ha basis averaged 1.72 in open pine, 3.56 in young, and 4.11 in mature forest. Twenty-two species were collected across all cover types, with all but three species belonging to the Basidiomycotina. Eleven dominant species accounted for 91–94% of truffle biomass in each cover type. Four dominant species accounted for 60–70% of spring truffle biomass: Gautieria monticola, Hysterangium coriaceum, Rhizopogon parksii, and R. vinicolor. Truffle assemblages, richness and total biomass differed among cover types: richness and biomass were highest in young and mature mixed-conifer forest, and lowest in open ponderosa pine forest. Fall squirrel diets were composed of 23 genera or groups of fungi, plus about 22% plant material. Rhizopogon was the most abundant genus in the diet, followed by plant material, then Gautieria, Leucogaster, Alpova, and Hysterangium. Diets in different cover types were similar in the composition, richness, evenness, and the ratio of fungus to plant material. Diet richness varied over the study period. Nineteen truffle genera were detected in fall fecal samples versus 12 in spring soil samples. Management of low-elevation dry forest to maintain or restore stable fire regimes might reduce truffle diversity at stand scales by simplifying stand composition and structure; but, such management might increase long-term beta and landscape truffle diversity and persistence by reducing the occurrence of high-intensity fires and stabilizing inherent fire disturbance regimes.


This article was originally published in Forest Ecology and Management. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Forest Ecology and Management


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