Fungal decisions can affect climate

American Society of Agronomy

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Fungi play an important role in the ecosystem by decomposing plant and animal debris into nutrients and simpler compounds. Credit Susan V. Fisk

When we think of climate change, we tend to think about greenhouse gases, fossil fuels and pollution. Most of us don’t think about fungi.

But Kathleen Treseder does. Treseder, an ecologist at the University of California, Irvine, studies how fungi can affect climate and vice-versa.

“Fungi are important to consider,” she says. “They can influence nearly every aspect of ecosystems, especially processes that occur in soils.”

New research from her lab shows that fungi can have different lifestyles in response to climate change. These findings can be incorporated into computational models that simulate ecosystems.

“We may be able to better predict shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate change,” says Treseder. “That can help us estimate how much, when and where climate change will affect human societies.”

It’s important to be able to forecast which places will be hit by climate change and how quickly. These early warnings can help preparations, such as building sea walls or flood channels, or direct the development of new crop varieties.

Fungi are terrific decomposers. They break down organic material to get nutrients and energy. In doing so, they turn complex chemicals into simpler elements, such as carbon. In fact, “fungi are an integral part of the global carbon cycle,” says Treseder. “They can move carbon from decomposing material into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.”

But fungi don’t just release carbon. They can also store it. For example, environmental stress can cause fungi to strengthen their cell walls. They do so by using organic compounds that contain carbon. These carbon compounds can stay in soils for years to decades or even longer.

Treseder’s research explores how fungi decide whether to use limited energy and resources to decompose material or for other processes. “No one can do everything well, and the same goes for fungi,” says Treseder. “If fungi invest resources into one activity like decomposition, then those resources won’t be available to support another activity like tolerating environmental stress.”

These resource allocation decisions become even more important in a world with changing climate. “For example, will more extreme climates select for fungi that tolerate stress well, but cannot decompose dead material as efficiently?” says Treseder. “If so, then their production of carbon dioxide might decrease, slowing climate change.”

To answer these questions, Treseder traveled to Alaska and Costa Rica. Experiments were set up in Alaskan Boreal forests and the cloud forests of Costa Rica. ”

“We chose these locations because they are both endangered by climate change,” says Treseder. “Northern ecosystems are warming particularly fast. Clouds are disappearing from the mountaintops of Costa Rica.”

Treseder and colleagues exposed areas of the forests to drought-like conditions or more mellow environments. They collected soil samples from the different experimental areas.

Then they analyzed products made by fungal genes. These gene products served as indicators for whether the fungi were investing more resources toward decomposition or strengthening cell walls.

“We found that where drought stress increased, the amount of fungi that invested more in strengthening cell walls and less in decomposition tended to increase,” says Treseder. In contrast, in more moderate conditions, the reverse occurred. Fungi that decomposed more efficiently became more common.

These findings suggest that fungi might store more carbon as global climate becomes more extreme. On the other hand, they might release more carbon dioxide in moderate climates. “These opposing feedbacks would not have been apparent without examining trade-offs among fungal traits,” says Treseder.

Treseder is working to incorporate these findings into new and existing models of climate change. One particular area of focus are Earth system models that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses for its official predictions. “We hope our research improves predictions of future trajectories of climate change,” says Treseder.

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Treseder presented her research at the 2019 International Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America. This research was funded by the US Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.

From EurekAlert!

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38 thoughts on “Fungal decisions can affect climate

  1. So Treseder is saying that Fungi are a stabilising function for carbon dioxide, storing it when levels ‘go up’ and releasing it when levels ‘go down’. Heavens above! A biological explanation for how life on earth can have a stable equilibrium. Whatever next?

    One thing Treseder should consider is the global balance of such trade-offs. It is very clear to me reading various climate sites with different prejudices that certain regions have opposite deviations from ‘normality’: Europe having a very mild winter seems to correlate with parts of Eurasia having very extreme snowy ones; Californian snowfalls may often be somewhat in synch with European ones (both places have had Januaries characterised by low snowfall); others exist.

    Decision trees about where low pressure systems choose to go make these altered patterns happen: Mediterranean lows can go north to the Alps, east to the Middle East or NE to Ukraine during winter. The direction they go has a big impact on where snow falls in winter. Atlantic lows can go AW-NE pummelling Scotland and Norway before looping round into Russia or they can go NW-SE pummelling the European Alps. You do not see both at the same time very often. Similar decision trees occur for lows emerging from the Gulf of Mexico and storms traversing the Eastern Pacific, which determines where in the US and Canada gets winter precipitation.

    There is not an either-or to these things in general, more a statistical deviation from a long-term mean.

    But this science is a great start to bringing biological modulators into the framework of scientific climate science.

  2. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, they’re worried about the fungal pathogens of climate change.

    “One of the climate change scenarios predicted for the UK is warmer winters and additional summer rainfall, which may favour growth and survival of fungal pathogens.”

    Their research shows that the answer is Fungicide.

    Please don’t tell Kathleen.

  3. What proportions are we talking about here?
    Is it the same proportions as termites, in terms of CO₂ fertilization?
    I ask, because the study could gain more interest if it contribute significantly to change in the atmosphere.

  4. Chitin (C8H13O5N)n (/ˈkaɪtɪn/ KY-tin), a long-chain polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, is a derivative of glucose. It is a primary component of cell walls in fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods, such as crustaceans and insects, the radulae of molluscs, cephalopod beaks, and the scales of fish and lissamphibians.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitin

  5. We found that where drought stress increased, the amount of fungi that invested more in strengthening cell walls and less in decomposition tended to increase,”

    SURPRISE, SURPRISE, …… Kathleen Treseder, ….. in drought conditions, …. bacteria, molds, mildews and fungi are really restricted as to how much decomposing of dead biomass they are capable of.

    Iffen dead biomass would easily decompose in drought conditions ….. Australia would not now be fighting hundreds of brushfires.

      • Yep. Seems Alaska and Costa Rica are the null-sume game.

        In between there’s time for IPCC computer games.
        ____________________________________

        … strengthening cell walls.

        “We found that where drought stress increased, the amount of fungi that invested more in strengthening cell walls and less in decomposition tended to increase,” says Treseder. In contrast, in more moderate conditions, the reverse occurred. Fungi that decomposed more efficiently became more common.

        These findings suggest that fungi might store more carbon as global climate becomes more extreme. On the other hand, they might release more carbon dioxide in moderate climates. “These opposing feedbacks would not have been apparent without examining trade-offs among fungal traits,” says Treseder.

        Treseder is working to incorporate these findings into new and existing models of climate change.

        One particular area of focus are Earth system models that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses for its official predictions. “We hope our research improves predictions of future trajectories of climate change,” says Treseder.

        ____________________________________

        Game over. Set your bets.

  6. Does this mean people will have to give up smoking mushrooms to save the climate?

  7. How important are fungi?

    A 2009 paper in Science estimates, for the first time, the total world fish biomass as somewhere between 0.8 and 2.0 billion tonnes.[43][44] It has been estimated that about 1% of the global biomass is due to phytoplankton,[45] and 25% is due to fungi. link

    Of course there are huge error bars. In any event, fungi are pretty important.

    • In a recent conversation with a friend, there was a bit of a raconteur about a subject of fungal nature, and in particular that the particular lady he was talking about, as he put it, had something fungal that was black. Very scary stuff! I was shocked!

      Later i thought back on our conversation and concluded, amongst other conclusions, that perhaps what she she was trying to say, was that she was a fun-gal with a dark/black sense of humour.

      Fascinating.

      Other than that, it seems Bacillus Subtilis, a bacilli, plays a very big part in controlling various soil fungi and so it is now finally been released by Bayer as a solution called Serenade of Bacillus Subtilis that has sporulated that is now used to control a huge variety of fungi that are not very good for agriculture such as ‘Brown Rot’ on fruit crops like peaches and in the soil fruit trees inhabit.

      https://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&as_vis=1&q=bacillus+subtilis+soil+fungus+control

      • Funghi and bacilli have been in a state of war with each other aeons before we arrived on the scene.

        I have little doubt that the Fungal kingdom will be distinctly unimpressed with Bayer’s efforts 🙂

    • Don’t forget nematodes, everywhere you look, extremely tolerant.
      Meyers, S. P., W. A. Feder and K. M. Tsue. 1963. Nutritional relationships among certain filamentous fungi and a marine nematode. Science. 141:520-522.

      • Indeed the nematodes are needing and receiving further understanding .

        Virus’s/phages are very tolerant too and do not mind being invisibly small in the ocean soup of life.

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6783874/

        Mycovirus
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
        Mycoviruses (Ancient Greek: μύκης mykes (“fungus”) + Latin virus), also known as mycophages, are viruses that infect fungi. The majority of mycoviruses have double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) genomes and isometric particles, but approximately 30% have positive-sense, single-stranded RNA (+ssRNA) genomes.[1][2]

        True mycoviruses demonstrate an ability to be transmitted to infect other healthy fungi. Many double-stranded RNA elements that have been described in fungi do not fit this description, and in these cases they are referred to as virus-like particles or VLPs. Preliminary results indicate that most mycoviruses co-diverge with their hosts, i.e. their phylogeny is largely congruent with that of their primary hosts.[3] However, many virus families containing mycoviruses have only sparsely been sampled. Mycovirology[4] is the study of mycoviruses. It is a special subdivision of virology and seeks to understand and describe the taxonomy, host range, origin and evolution, transmission and movement of mycoviruses and their impact on host phenotype.”

        And no doubt not forgetting virus’s inhabiting bacteria….

        Bacteriophage
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteriophage
        “The structure of a typical myovirus bacteriophage
        Anatomy and infection cycle of phage T4

        “A bacteriophage (/bækˈtɪərioʊfeɪdʒ/), also known informally as a phage (/feɪdʒ/), is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria and archaea. The term was derived from “bacteria” and the Greek φαγεῖν (phagein), meaning “to devour”. Bacteriophages are composed of proteins that encapsulate a DNA or RNA genome, and may have structures that are either simple or elaborate. Their genomes may encode as few as four genes (e.g. MS2) and as many as hundreds of genes. Phages replicate within the bacterium following the injection of their genome into its cytoplasm.

        “Bacteriophages are among the most common and diverse entities in the biosphere.[1] Bacteriophages are ubiquitous viruses, found wherever bacteria exist. It is estimated there are more than 1031 bacteriophages on the planet, more than every other organism on Earth, including bacteria, combined.[2] One of the densest natural sources for phages and other viruses is seawater, where up to 9×108 virions per millilitre have been found in microbial mats at the surface,[3] and up to 70% of marine bacteria may be infected by phages.[4] [My bolding]

        More notes and errata:
        A very enjoyable video interview.
        http://microbeminded.com/2018/11/28/interview-with-george-tetz-a-look-at-how-bacteriophages-can-as-novel-mammalian-pathogens/

        From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3109452/
        “Abstract
        “Bacteriophages or phages are the most abundant organisms in the biosphere and they are a ubiquitous feature of prokaryotic existence.”………..

  8. EVERY specialist of anything in the world will tell you that his speciality is way more important than you think.

  9. I am currently researching a subject that is unimportant and interests nobody. However, with a little creativity I can crowbar “Climate Change” into my conclusions. Please send more funding.

  10. “These findings can be incorporated into computational models that simulate ecosystems.”

    Fun toys, undoubtedly. And useful teaching aids. But hardly reliable tools.

    “We may be able to better predict shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate change, that can help us estimate how much, when and where climate change will affect human societies.”

    …but, hell, give us the climate money anyway.

  11. So, fungi can decide to have different lifestyles? Just exactly how does a fungi determine which lifestyle it is going to emulate and does it have peer pressure to conform to the standard fungi lifestyle?

    • Ken
      Like you, I found her anthropomorphizing unscientific. It looks like she has developed a writing style intended to sway bureaucrats reading her grant applications.

  12. The science of hair splitting. One could just as well try to model the possible consequences of a flapping of the wings of a butterfly. It is impossible for a chaotic system, unstable system, since there is an unknown number of unkown variables which to simulate takes no less than the complexety of the real world.

    And of course it is totally pointless in a non-chaotic system (as climate) where a butterfly is just a butterfly and has no impact at all.

  13. Treseder traveled to Alaska and Costa Rica. I bet she flew and drove and used fossil fuels. I love it when climate crusaders use helicopters to fly around and show us the CC they can never find.

  14. Yet another area where the science is far from settled.

    Unless you understand how all factors (atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere – the 5 spheres) interact, then you cannot predict what will happen when any one of the spheres is perturbed.

  15. Wow, so many people attacking a person doing basic science.
    This scientist isn’t talking policy – they’re just trying to understand how fungi would behave under different conditions.
    Please leave the ideology at the door.

    • She let the ideology in the door, sat it down and gave it a cup of tea when she said:

      “We may be able to better predict shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate change,” says Treseder. “That can help us estimate how much, when and where climate change will affect human societies.”

  16. “We may be able to better predict shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate change,” says Treseder.”

    The unstated assumption is that carbon dioxide levels drive climate change. That is unwarranted as the facts in evidence are questioned and subject to different interpretations. It appears that she is engaged in ‘grant questing’ to support her personal interests.

  17. Mushroom walks into a bar, bartender says “We do not serve your kind here!”
    Mushroom says “Why not, I’m a fun guy?”

  18. Clouds are disappearing from the Mountain Tops of Costa Rica AND Trees are disappearing from their slopes too. Evapotranspiration has a lot to do with cloud formation in Rain Forests

  19. Fungal CO2 output levels in a root zone will have several effects. Here is one example that is also, for tender temperate climate leafy annuals at least, temperature related.

    At 20* Celsius root zone temperature an annual leafy plant will have higher leaf protein than when grown at 24-38* Celsius if the CO2 in the root zone is at current levels of CO2. When root zone CO2 levels rise the same leafy annual will increase it’s leaf protein content no matter whether the root zone temoerature is 20*C or 24-38*C.

    However, the annual plant’s leaf protein content at elevated root zone CO2 when root zone temperatures are 24-38*C will still be less than the leaf protein content when grown at 20*C root zone temperature & the root zone CO2 is (still just) at current levels of CO2. For that matter, the root zone temperature also imparts greater total biomass, smaller diameter roots, more numerous root tips & a greater root colonization area (more fungal exposure).

    In other words, when increased fungal CO2 release occurs in co-colonization with plant roots there is more plant biomass produced. The extent of such plant reactions is, in part, a function of root zone temperature; with presumably different plants having variations for their ideal root zone temperature (among other things).

    • Right, but soil co2 levels are merely a marker of fungal activity. Virtually all vascular plant roots form an intimate contact, commensal system with fungi. The Rhizobium/legume system is a classic one, among many others. The fungi not only provide elemental nutrients by decomposing organic matter in the soil, but in some cases are actually needed to transport those nutrients across the root cell walls…Very little of a plant’s biomass structure is proteinaceous. The plant’s protein content is a marker of enzymatic activity. The higher temp/faster metabolism & more enzyme recruitment relationship is obvious, not to mention, plants don’t transport soil co2 up to the leaves for photosynthesis.

      BTW- if we get rid of all our meat producing livestock, we’ll still have the grass decomposing via fungal activity producing co2 & ch4….Are we to poison all the fungi next? But that would kill all the fungi-dependent plants? What will vegans eat?

      • Hi guido LaMoto, – Plant roots do assimilate some CO2 & not just when roots are growing submerged (ex: rice); this is known to occur in commonly grown commercial crops (ex: potatoes, wheat) & tress (ex: poplar). Which means some of fungal CO2 put out into a soil root zone has the potential to be assimilated by roots.

        How much of any fungal sourced CO2 goes upward in the xylem & how much internally generated CO2 is in that same xylem stream is something I can not assess. Proportionally I assume the root absorbed CO2 fraction is quite a minor fraction of total xylem CO2; while see no reason fungal sourced root CO2 is partitioned out of what loads into the xylem.

        Without trying to quantify what amount of root assimilated fungal CO2 is in any kind of plant they can use internally circulated CO2 to perform photosynthesis. It is quite a small percentage of the total internally circulated CO2 that itself ends up involved in photosynthesis in stems, branches & leaves (ex: poplar trees’ leaves only use 0.5-2.7% of the total internal circulating CO2 for photosynthesis).

  20. So should I clean that interesting fungus growing in the corner of my shower and that strange stuff on my feet, or leave it? I am so confused won’t some actor help me?

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