Agroecosystems are human-managed ecosystems subject to generalized ecological rules. Understanding the ecology behind the assembly and dynamics of soil fungal communities is a fruitful way to improve management practices and plant productivity. Thus, monitoring soil health would benefit from the use of metrics that arise from ecological explanations that can also be informative for agricultural management. Beyond traditional biodiversity descriptors, community-level properties have the potential of informing about particular ecological situations. Here we assess the impact of different farming practices in a survey of 350 vineyard soils from the United States and Spain by estimating network properties based on spatial associations. Our observations using traditional approaches show results concurring with previous literature: the influence of geographic and climatic factors on sample distributions, or different operational taxonomic unit (OTU) compositions depending on agricultural managements. Furthermore, using network properties, we observe that fungal communities ranged from dense arrangements of associations to a sparser structure of associations, indicating differential levels of niche specialization. We detect fungal arrangements capable of thriving in wider or smaller ranges of temperature, revealing that niche specialization may be a critical soil process impacting soil health. Low-intervention practices (organic and biodynamic managements) promoted densely clustered networks, describing an equilibrium state based on mixed collaborative communities. In contrast, conventionally managed vineyards had highly modular sparser communities, supported by a higher coexclusion proportion. Thus, we hypothesize that network properties at the community level may help to understand how the environment and land use can affect community structure and ecological processes in agroecosystems.
IMPORTANCE: Soil fungal communities play a key role in agroecosystem sustainability. The complexity of fungal communities, at both taxonomic and functional levels, makes it difficult to find clear patterns connecting community composition with ecosystem function and to understand the impact of biotic (interspecies interactions) and abiotic (e.g., climate or anthropogenic disturbances) factors on it. Here we combine network analysis methods and properties, proposing a novel analytical approach: to infer ecological properties from local networks, which we apply to the study of fungal communities in vineyard soils. We conclude that different levels of farming intensification may lead to different ecological strategies in soil fungal communities settled by particular association arrangements.