Temperature rise prompting greater diversity and vegetation change

Antarctic soil fungi on the increase
Antarctic soil fungi on the increase

Scientific research into the relationship between temperature and the diversity of Antarctic soil fungi has found that rising temperatures during the second half of the 20th century has led to an increase in diversity.

Surface air temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by up to 2.8°C since the 1940s; the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, predicts a rise of up to 27% in the diversity of fungi in Antarctic soils by 2100 if temperatures continue to increase at their current rate. This will lead to an increased turnover of nutrients in the soil making them more productive.

Dr Kevin Newsham of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the University Centre in Svalbard, lead author of the study, said, ‘Although the majority of fungi are microscopic, they have important roles to play as decomposers and as symbionts (mutually dependent organisms that aid each others’ survival).

‘We’ve observed that warmer Antarctic soils have more species of fungi in them than colder ones. If air temperatures along the Peninsula rise, it’s likely the number of species of fungi in the soils of the region will increase, partly due to the increased availability of water. This will influence important ecological processes such as the decay of plant remains effectively kick-starting plant communities by releasing more nutrients into the soil.’

One suggested reason for the presence of more fungal species in warmer soils is improved access to water, which, when combined with higher temperatures, enhances fungal metabolism. This increases the length of time fungi are active each year allowing them to disperse more easily.

The project – the largest survey of soil organisms ever undertaken on the Antarctic Peninsula – was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the University of Queensland, and used soil samples gathered during the austral summer of 2007/08.

The paper, entitled Relationship between soil fungal diversity and temperature in the maritime Antarctic, is available from Nature Climate Change Nature Climate Change.

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