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Climate Changes Means More Mushrooms
4 May, 2007 12:45 pm
Species that used to start fruiting in September now do so in July or August. The end of the season now ends later. It used to be in October, now it is December. These events have been caused by elevated temperature in July (makes them start earlier) and in October (no frosts anymore, so autumn stays warmer for longer).
I found that the length of the autumnal fungal fruiting season has more than doubled over the last 50 years in the United Kingdom. Species that used to start fruiting in September now do so in July or August. The end of the season now ends later. It used to be in October, now it is December. These events have been caused by elevated temperature in July (makes them start earlier) and in October (no frosts anymore, so autumn stays warmer for longer). We discovered that these changes have become apparent since 1975 – the exact time when a marked warming has become evident in the United Kingdom average temperature record.
Perhaps it is more remarkable that many species now fruit twice a year. Species that used to fruit only in September/October now do so also in April/May. The reason is that as spring has got warmer, the fungus body in the soil has become active in February (February used to be too cold for this to happen, so the fungi remained dormant). Activity in February means the fungus acquires sufficient nutrients to enable it to fruit a month or two later.
Over long time scales, biologists measure the changes in phenology of organisms in days per decade. The rate we calculated is higher than that for all previous reports - the latter include birds, fish, mammals and plants. Thus it seems that fungi are some of the most sensitive organisms on the planet to changes in climate. Furthermore, it is unheard of for an organism to start reproducing twice a year instead of once, in two opposing seasons (e.g. birds nest in the spring and even though climate has got warmer, they have not started to nest in autumn as well).
All this increased fungal activity may mean increased decomposition rates. Thus, leaf litter in a wood may now disappear at a faster rate than it did 50 years ago. Enhanced speed of decomposition could mean enhanced availability of nutrients to plants, so in woodlands, trees will receive increased amounts of nutrients and their growth rates could increase. In other words, these fungal effects will 'cascade' upwards to affect the whole ecosystem. The focus of our current research is to investigate the ecosystem consequences of the altered fungal fruiting patterns.
Gange, A.C., et al. (2007). Rapid and recent changes in fungal fruiting patterns. Science, 316 , 71-71.
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The article is interesting and written in clear, easily understandable language. I believe only a minor revision is necessary. The changes I propose were inspired because some of the comments appeared a bit bold to me, and perhaps could/should be toned down.
For instance, the sentence on fungi being the most sensitive of all the organisms in the world (!) could read: of the species that have been adequately studied, fungi may be the most sensitive to climate change. (Obs., many have not yet been studied and we don't know if fungi are the best, yet).
Furthermore, the doubling of decomposition and nutrient cycling rates could be verified using data from old literature, to see if it is really happening! This is a great idea! For instance some of the old IGBP data are now almost that old! Old decomposition data from agricultural areas such as Rothamsted are certainly also available for this task.
[Response] Many thanks for the review. I have made the changes as suggested ? making both statements much more circumspect. I hope it is now acceptable for you. Best wishes, Alan Gange
Cheers and best regards,
[Response] thanks George and thank you also for your interest in our article. Best wishes, Alan