Relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences

Abstract

The decomposition of organic matter is a critical process to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. This process is largely driven by saprotrophic (decomposer) fungi in soil and plant litter. Saprotrophic fungi therefore have pivotal roles in the release of carbon (C) from terrestrial ecosystems, in the form of CO2 (a climate-forcing gas), to the atmosphere. Currently, little is known of the specific roles of individual fungal species, i.e. functional diversity, in the degradation of particular C components in the sub- and Maritime Antarctic. The first step in characterising functional diversity is to identify the soil C components (fractions, particle sizes and ages) with which decomposer fungi in soil are associated. Establishing baseline fungal taxonomic and functional diversity and characterizing the soil C components - central aims of this proposal - are fundamental to understand the impacts of environmental change on Antarctic ecosystems. Why the sub- and Maritime Antarctic? Soils in these regions have relatively high stocks of C because of the slow decomposition of organic matter and the tundra vegetation present. For example, soils from South Georgia and Signy Island contain 30 to 40% C. The potential temperature responses of these soils and the C fractions they contain are also important to understand because the terrestrial Maritime Antarctic has been warming rapidly, at c. 0.2-0.4 degrees C per decade over the past 50-100 years, one of the fastest rates of warming recorded. The temperature sensitivity of young and older C fractions in releasing CO2 to the atmosphere is much debated, particularly for peatlands and permafrost soils, such as those that occur in the sub- and Maritime Antarctic. We will determine the associations of specific fungal taxa with specific organic fractions in the field at three sites in the sub- and Maritime Antarctic, and characterise by age and organic geochemistry, the C components of these fractions. In the laboratory, the specific C fractions mineralised by 'key' species of fungi will be determined, together with responses to temperature increases and freeze-thaw cycles. The outcomes of the project will be: (1) a better understanding of the roles of particular groups of fungi in the C cycle, (2) a benchmark for future studies (e.g. in arctic or temperate soils) of the functional roles of fungal mycelia in relation to C mineralisation will have been obtained, and (3) the effects of temperature increases / freeze-thaw on C mineralisation will have been determined.
 
Description Please see Antarctic Funding Initiative Fieldwork Report at:

http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/afi/docs/2011-12_field_reports/afi11-02-robinson-field-report-2011-12.pdf



Not poles apart: Antarctic soil fungal communities show similarities to those of the distant Arctic.

Antarctica and the Arctic occupy opposite poles of the planet, but are environmentally similar, offering scientists an opportunity to study factors determining the distributions of polar species. In terms of large organisms, such as mammals and birds, the two poles are often seen to harbour distinct wildlife. However, little is known about the microorganisms, such as fungi, that can be found in polar environments.

Researchers at the University of Manchester worked alongside British Antarctic Survey to provide a first survey of the soil fungal community of Antarctica, using modern DNA barcoding techniques. Additionally, they compiled DNA sequences from other studies into a global database of over 30,000 fungal species from 400 sites. By matching the Antarctic fungi against this database, the team was able to show that an unexpectedly high number of fungi are shared between the north and south polar regions, with some occurring only at the poles, and nowhere in between.

The results are a striking example of community convergence, and contrast with recent suggestions that dispersal abilities primarily determine fungal distributions. These results suggest that some fungi may be able to disperse across the range of the planet, yet only thrive where the environmental conditions are suitable.

Key
i) The research focused on fungi living in soils, a group of organisms pivotal to decomposition of organic matter in soil and carbon cycling.
ii) The study provides the first thorough description of the diversity of fungi in an important environment, at risk from global change.
iii) The findings suggest environmental selection determines presence for many species with potentially global distributions. This has been a topic of recent research focus for microorganisms, but the effects of extreme environments have not previously been investigated.
Exploitation Route Nil return so far
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/gotw.asp
 
Description British Ecological Society Early Career Grant
Amount £13,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 4245 / 5212 
Organisation British Ecological Society 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2013 
End 02/2014
 
Description Relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils 
Organisation British Antarctic Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Dr Kevin Newsham, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge
Collaborator Contribution Carried out joint: fieldwork, isolation of fungi and microcosm experiment
Impact Joint publication in Ecology Letters
Start Year 2010
 
Description Relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils 
Organisation Julich Research Centre
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Dr Roland Bol, FZ-Juelich
Start Year 2010
 
Description Relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council
Department NERC Radiocarbon Facility (Environment)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of fractions of Antarctic soil samples for radiocarbon analysis
Collaborator Contribution Analysis of radiocarbon in fractions of Antarctic soil samples
Impact Publication in preparation
Start Year 2014
 
Description Relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council
Department NERC Radiocarbon Facility (Environment)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Dr Mark H. Garnett, Deputy Head of NERC Radiocarbon Laboratory (East Kilbride)
Collaborator Contribution Radiocarbon analyses
Impact Analyses remain to be completed
Start Year 2010
 
Description Relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils 
Organisation Rothamsted Research
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Dr Jenni Dungait, Rothamsted Research - North Wyke, Okehampton, Devon
Start Year 2010
 
Title Web site about relating fungal functional diversity to C-cycling in sub- and Maritime Antarctic soils 
Description Website: www.antarcticfungi.co.uk 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Wider dissemination of the project 
URL http://www.antarcticfungi.co.uk
 
Description Invited talk at British Embassy, Moscow at workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The talk resulted in questions and stimulated discussion afterwards.

The talk resulted in questions and stimulated discussion afterwards, particularly about Russian field sites which could be useful.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Member of the UK Polar Partnership Steering Committee, June 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Took part in discussions about the future of polar science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description UK Antarctic Research Symposium 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The talk resulted in a good number of questions and discussions about the project. Questions and discussions arising from the talk resulted in gaining understanding about conditions at one of the field site locations.

The talk resulted in a good number of questions and discussions about the project. A discussion with a PhD student looking at microbial communities on glacier forelands, but who was not currently considering fungi, resulted in follow-up correspondence. I believe the student is now considering these important members of the microbial community in their research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014