Potential for monoterpenes to affect ectomycorrhizal and saprotrophic fungal activity in coniferous forests is revealed by novel experimental system

Katherine E. Ludley, Clare H. Robinson, Sue Jickells, Paul M. Chamberlain, Jeanette Whitaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The fungal community in coniferous forest soils plays a pivotal role in ecosystem processes such as decomposition and carbon and nutrient cycling. Both saprotrophic (SP) and ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi occur throughout the upper soil horizons in coniferous forests and could therefore be exposed to high concentrations of monoterpenes occurring in the needle litter and roots of some tree species. Previous work has noted the differential effects of monoterpenes on the mycelial growth of a range of both SP and ECM fungi when grown in artificial nutrient media. This study used a novel experimental system to assess the effect of environmentally relevant concentrations of monoterpenes on the activity of ECM and SP fungi grown on more natural substrata. Exposure of the ECM fungus Paxillus involutus (Batsch) Fr. to vapours of either α-pinene or β-pinene resulted in a significantly greater proportion of root tips being colonised by the fungus when it was grown with seedlings of Picea abies (L.) Karst. Exposure to monoterpenes resulted in a significant decrease in respiration rate of two species of litter degrading SP fungi, Mycena galopus var. candida J. E. Lange and Collybia butyracea (Bull.) P. Kumm. There was no difference in response between the two SP species, despite the fact that previous tests in liquid nutrient media, with monoterpenes at higher concentrations, indicated that one species was sensitive and one was not. The high volatility and low solubility of monoterpenes in water make them challenging to work with. The experimental system developed here, although still artificial, provides a bridge between pure culture studies in defined media and all the complexities of forest soils in the field, by allowing the exposure of fungi to environmentally relevant monoterpene concentrations in more natural substrata.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-124
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • Coniferous forest soils
  • Decomposition
  • Ectomycorrhizal fungi
  • Fungal ecology
  • Monoterpenes
  • Saprotrophic fungi
  • Symbiosis

Cite this