Most trees on Earth form a symbiosis with either ectomycorrhizal or arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The type of association has demonstrated importance for understanding ecosystem carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling. Furthermore, the effect is independent of other dominant drivers of ecosystem function: climate, mineralogy and organic matter chemistry. Given this, it becomes important to understand where different mycorrhizal associations are, what controls their distribution, and where they will be in the future. Here we analyze ~3,000 forest inventory plots from the United State Forest Inventory and Analysis data set. We categorize forest basal area as ecto- or arbuscular mycorrhizal associated to generate a metric of the relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal trees (ectomycorrhizal basal area / ecto- + arbuscular mycorrhizal basal area). We model this abundance as a function of climate, soil chemical properties (pH and C:N stoichiometry), and atmospheric N deposition. We hypothesized that N pollution in the United States has affected the relative abundance of different mycorrhizal associations, and that this would be reflected in forest composition.
Overall, models showed that climate, soil chemistry, and N deposition were important for predicting the current relative abundance of ecto- and arbuscular associated trees. Ectomycorrhizal trees were more abundant in cold and wet climates compared to hot and dry. Low soil pH and high soil C:N ratios were also associated with an increase in the relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal trees. Most interesting, there was a significant influence of N deposition on the relative abundance of different mycorrhizal associations. N deposition reduced the abundance of ectomycorrhizal compared to arbuscular mycorrhizal associated trees independent of climate and soil chemistry. Given the known associations between ectomycorrhizal dominance and soil C stabilization, we argue that N pollution in the United States has shifted the forest microbiome in a way that may have large implications for ecosystem C balance. Future changes in atmospheric N deposition will likely alter forest community composition and C balance via interactions with the forest microbiome.