Plant Gender Affects Soil Fungal Microbiota Associated with Welwitschia mirabilis, an Unusual Desert Gymnosperm

Tirza Doniger, Dorsaf Kerfahi, Chaim Wachtel, Eugene Marais, Gillian Maggs-Kölling, Chen Sherman, Jonathan M. Adams, Yosef Steinberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a recent study, we found a distinct soil bacterial community associated with male and female plants of the desert gymnosperm Welwitschia mirabilis. In this subsequent study, we also found that the soil fungal community associated with Welwitschia differs between male and female plants, and between unvegetated areas and the soil under plants. Site location, pH, and soil moisture also had an important influence on the composition of the fungal community. A number of Ascomycota and Chytrid species were found to be distinct indicators of male and female plants, respectively, but there was no overall difference at the phylum level or in terms of diversity. The unvegetated areas between plants also differed in terms of several Ascomycota OTUs. Network connectivity of the fungal communities was found to be higher under both male and female Welwitschia plants than in unvegetated control areas. As with the bacterial community, it is unclear what processes produce the gender-distinct fungal community, and also the more general plant-associated community, and also what the effects on the biology of the plants are. One possibility behind the gender-related difference in fungal community is that there are differences in the production of pollen or nectar between the two plant genders, affecting the below-ground soil community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-212
Number of pages13
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jun 2022
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Fungal diversity
  • Namibian desert
  • Plant gender
  • Welwitschia mirabilis


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