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UA participates in a study that identifies dominant fungi and their attributes on the planet's soils

The work has been published in Nature Communications, and provides a better understanding of the environmental preferences and global distribution of dominant fungi on the planet's soils

Fungi play a key role as organic matter decomposers in natural and agricultural ecosystems and are essential for maintaining soil fertility

 

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Images: Fernando T. Maestre sampling in Morocco soils used in the study and ecosystem analysed in Patagonia

 

Alicante, Friday 31 May 2019

An international research team including University of Alicante Ramón Margalef Institute for Environmental Research researcher Fernando T. Maestre has identified a list of some eighty species of dominant fungi that can be found in soils all over the world. The study, published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, identifies the attributes that allow these species to be so dominant on a global scale, and how they are associated with certain soil and climate characteristics.  This information is key to understanding the impact of climate change on these organisms.

The fungi that live in the soil are important to human beings not only because of their gastronomic value (they give rise to the well-known and appreciated mushrooms and control the fermentation of wine and beer), economic (some species help plants to capture water and nutrients and others are important agricultural pests) and medical (they are a source of antibiotics as important as penicillin) but also play a key role as decomposers of organic matter in natural and agricultural ecosystems.  Thus, these microorganisms control an essential process for maintaining soil fertility, which in turn is essential for food production.  However, understanding the distribution and ecology of these fungi is still a challenge and one of the factors responsible for this is their high diversity and the difficulties associated with their identification and study.

Scientists from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Spain — with UA researcher Fernando Maestre as part of the team — have characterised the fungal populations that inhabit soils around the globe by using sampling carried out in 235 ecosystems on all continents, including from desert areas to tropical forests and polar ecosystems.  Researchers have found that about 80 species (less than 0.1% of the fungal species found) comprise about 20% of the populations of these organisms in the soils studied. Fungal communities follow a dynamic very similar to that observed with the distribution of wealth in our society: a few people concentrate most of the wealth existing on earth. Similar patterns have also been observed in other organisms, such as trees in the Amazon Jungle or soil bacteria, as pointed out by Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, another of the study's authors, a Marie-Curie researcher at the University Rey Juan Carlos and member of the Dryland Ecology and Global Change Lab, led by Fernando Maestre.

 

First global mushroom atlas

Researchers have studied the affinity of soil fungi for certain soil and climate characteristics, enabling them to develop the first global atlas of soil fungi. The study reveals how to predict clusters of dominant soil fungi using environmental information, which is a fundamental step forward to map the distribution of these organisms at a global level and understand how climate change is going to affect their distribution in the future, UA researcher Fernando Maestre stated.

They have also used the most advanced genomic techniques to better understand the features of these fungi and why they are so dominant in the planet soils. According to Maestre, by studying the characteristics of dominant fungi in more detail, we found that these included aspects such as their ability to be dispersed over long distances by the wind. Also, the fact that they have numerous genes associated with the ability to withstand adverse environmental conditions and to capture resources such as nutrients.

Fernando Maestre's research group will continue to work in this line of research at the University of Alicante thanks to the BIODESERT Project, funded by the European Research Council ‘Consolidator Grants’ in which framework that more than 300 arid ecosystems have been sampled throughout the planet.

Fernando Maestre, a PhD in Biology from the University of Alicante, joined the UA Ramón Margalef Institute for Environmental Research at the beginning of May thanks to the GenT talent recruitment plan.

 

Reference

Egidi, E., M. Delgado-Baquerizo, J. Plett, J. Wang, D. J. Eldridge, R. D. Bardgett, F. T. Maestre & B. K. Singh. A few Ascomycota taxa dominate soil fungal communities worldwide. Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10373-z

 

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