Not poles apart: Antarctic soil fungal communities show similarities to those of the distant Arctic
Journal: Ecology Letters
Publication Date: 03 September, 2016
Department of: Earth and Environmental Sciences
New insights into microbe dispersal from studies at the poles
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.
- The research focused on fungi living in soils, a group of organisms pivotal to decomposition of organic matter in soil and carbon cycling.
- The study provides the first thorough description of the diversity of fungi in an important environment, at risk from global change.
- 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.