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Warmer, drier climate may slow the release of carbon dioxide by fungi that produce mushrooms.
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Image Courtesy of Steve Allison, UCI

In Alaska's Forests, Dried Mushrooms to the Rescue?
News story originally written on November 2, 2008

A group of scientists recently conducted a study in a forest near Fairbanks, Alaska to learn more about forests and climate change and global warming. Plants, animals, and fungi are all part of the carbon cycle. One part of the carbon cycle happens when the soil in northern forests in places like Alaska, Canada, or Scandinavia is warmed. When the soil warms, fungi that feed on dead plant material, such as mushrooms, dry out and produce significantly less climate-warming carbon dioxide than fungi in cooler, wetter soil.

Steven Allison and Kathleen Treseder, ecologists at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) researched what happens to carbon dioxide levels when soil from a northern forest is warmed. They compared soil from a greenhouse they could warm with soil in nearby unheated plots, and they found that by the end of the growing season in mid-August, the soil in the warmed greenhouses produced about half as much carbon dioxide as soil in cooler control plots. This is because the soil in the greenhouse had about half as much active fungi. When fungi dry out, they either die or become inactive and stop producing carbon dioxide, the scientists said.

The finding came as a surprise to scientists, who expected warmer soil to emit larger amounts of carbon dioxide; extreme cold is believed to slow down the process by which fungi convert soil carbon into carbon dioxide.

Last modified January 27, 2009 by Becca Hatheway.

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