Climate Change: Antarctic Warming Results in Different Soil Fungi

First Posted: Sep 28, 2015 05:24 PM EDT

New findings in Nature Climate Change examine how climate change will have a major impact on life in Antarctica.

Dr. Paul Dennis of the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences at The University of Queensland notes that by 2100 there will be 25 percent more soil fungal "species" in the warming parts of the continent.

"While this may bring certain ecological benefits, it may also help invasive species to gain a foothold in this pristine wilderness," Dr. Dennis said, in a news release"Our study was based on soil samples collected from Antarctica during an extensive survey led by Professor David Hopkins (Royal Agricultural University, UK) during International Polar Year 2007-2008."

The survey included complex logistics provided by the British Antarctic Survey and the UK's Royal Navy, including light aircraft, helicopters and ice breakers. Dr. Dennis claimed that surface air temperatures in maritime Antarctic had risen by up to 2.8ºC over the past 50 years, at rates several times that of the global average. He added that rapid warming is the main factor that determines soil fungal diversity in the area. 

"With air temperatures in the Antarctic currently rising at the fastest rates in the Southern Hemisphere, it's likely the number of species of fungi present in these soils will increase," the Scientists claimed. "Such increases are likely to positively influence important ecological processes such as the decomposition of plant remains, effectively kick-starting plant communities by the enhanced release of nutrients into the soil."

The researchers noted that the majority of fungi discovered were microscopic and may not be as charismatic as animals to the average person but carry important roles as soils in plant decomposers and as symbionts, closely associated with other organisms.

"By assessing fungal communities in the northern maritime Antarctic, we were able to make predictions about how soil fungi are likely respond to warming in colder regions," Dr. Dennis concluded. "Antarctica is like a natural laboratory in which to further understanding of our planet's response to environmental change."

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