Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Humongous fungus a new kind of individual

27.03.2003


The world’s biggest fungus, discovered in Oregon’s Blue Mountains in 2001, is challenging traditional notions of what constitutes an individual. The underground fungus--estimated to be between 2000 and 8500 years old--is also deepening our understanding of the ecosystem, with possible implications for the management of Canadian forests, according to a paper by the discoverers (B.A. Ferguson, T.A. Dreisbach, C.G. Parks, G.M. Filip, and C.L. Schmitt) published March 17 on the Web site of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (http://cjfr.nrc.ca).



The clone of Armillaria ostoyae--the tree-killing fungus that causes Armillaria root disease--covers an area of 9.65 square kilometres, about the size of 6000 hockey rinks or 1600 football fields.

"It’s one organism that began as a microscopic spore and then grew vegetatively, like a plant," says Dr. Catherine Parks, a research plant pathologist with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service and co-ordinator of the research team. "From a broad scientific view, it challenges what we think of as an individual organism."


In the paper, being published in the April 2003 issue of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, researchers at the USDA Forest Service reveal their findings about the huge fungus, including how they discovered it was a single organism, and the potential implications for forest management practices.

Armillaria root disease is a pernicous killer of trees in many parts of the U.S. and across southern Canada. It has been estimated to cause growth loss and mortality of 3.8 million cubic meters of lumber annually in B.C. The fungus spreads mainly along tree roots, but also through the soil using shoestring-like structures called rhizomorphs.

By collecting samples of the fungus from different points in the forest and observing the reactions as they were grown together on Petri dishes, researchers mapped the range of the fungus and confirmed its genetic identity. Said Dr. Parks, "The technique is actually very simple, and makes use of this fungus’ own ability to distinguish one individual from another."

Researchers thought that individual fungus organisms grew in distinct clusters in the forest, marked by the ring-shaped patches of dead trees that they spotted during overhead flights. No one expected to find that the well-separated clusters represented one contiguous organism. "If you could take away the soil and look at it, it’s just one big heap of fungus with all of these filaments that go out under the surface," says Dr. Parks. "The fact that an organism like this has been growing in the forest for thousands of years really expands our view of the forest ecosystem and how it functions."

Until now, forest managers thought that humans worsened the spread of Armillaria root disease by suppressing the forest fires that are part of the natural cycle of renewal. "But because this fungus is thousands of years old, and grew long before fire systems were influenced by man, we know this isn’t the case," says Dr. Parks. "It also means that fire does not naturally control this disease."

This means that the fungus, in all its far-flung glory, is a natural participant in the forest cycle. In fact, it is often present in areas with little visible tree damage. Knowing this, forest managers may be more prudent when using traditional management practices such as selected cutting. "After you cut an infected tree, the entire root system can be colonized by the fungus, which then increases the disease potential around that area," says Dr. Parks.

Forest managers may also want to consider which species to focus on during planting and harvesting. "When planting, they may want to introduce less susceptible trees--such as western larch, western white pine, and ponderosa pine--and harvest the more susceptible trees during thinning."

According to Cindy Prescott, co-editor of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, the findings are an exciting example of developments in forest research. "This study is an indication of the kind of discoveries now possible as scientists apply these new and developing techniques to explore the world below ground. It’s just the tip of the iceberg of new knowledge, but these novel findings are already giving us new insights into how forests work, and causing us to rethink fundamental ideas like, what is an individual, and what is a species?"


The Canadian Journal of Forest Research is published by the Research Press of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC).

Article also available on the Canadian Journal of Forest Research Web site: http://cjfr.nrc.ca

For more information, contact:

Dr. Catherine Parks
Research plant pathologist
USDA Forest Service
541-962-6531
cparks01@fs.fed.us

Cindy Prescott
Co-editor, Canadian Journal of Forest Research
604-822-4701
cpres@interchange.ubc.ca

References

Ferguson, B.A, Dreisbach, T.A., Parks, C.G., Filip, G.M., and Schmitt, C.L. Coarse-scale population structure of pathogenic Armillaria species in a mixed-conifer forest in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon. Can. J. For. Res. volume 33, 2003.


Dr. Catherine Parks | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://cjfr.nrc.ca

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Energy crop production on conservation lands may not boost greenhouse gases
13.03.2017 | Penn State

nachricht How nature creates forest diversity
07.03.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>