Mushrooms: Help for Warming Forests?

Scientists find that fungi reduce their carbon emissions under the effects of global warming

12-01-2008 // Hannah Schardt
National Wildlife Magazine Archive Image - Fungi
Courtesy of UC-Irvine 

THE DRY SPRUCE forests that cover Alaska, Canada and parts of northern Europe have are getting some help from a surprising ally in their struggle against global warming: mushrooms. When the soil in these forests warms, the fungi that feed on dead plant material dry out, producing far less carbon dioxide than fungi in cooler, wetter soil, according to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology. This is contrary to the expectations of researchers, who had predicted that warmer soil would emit larger amounts of carbon dioxide.

And it’s good news for the forests. “We don’t get a viscous cycle of warming in dry, boreal forests. Instead, we get the reverse, where warming actually prevents further warming from occurring,” says study author Steven Allison, an ecologist at the University of California–Irvine. “The Earth’s natural processes could give us some time to implement responsible policies to counteract warming globally.”

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