Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Arctic snow harbors deadly assassin

20.06.2011
Heavy and prolonged snowfall can bring about unexpected conditions that encourage fungal growth, leading to the death of plants in the Arctic, according to experts.

A new international study confirms that whilst snow has an insulating effect which helps plants to grow bigger, heavy and prolonged snow can, in certain circumstances, also encourage the rapid and extensive growth of killer fungal strains.

The research results, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, show for the first time the potential long term effects of unexpected fungal development on an arctic landscape. Extensive damage to a pervasive species under snowier conditions would leave gaps for another plant to take its place over time but could also alter the food–web for insects, voles, lemmings and their predators.

Co-author of the report, Dr. Robert Baxter, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, said: "We were surprised to find that this extremely hardy tundra vegetation was killed off by fungal attack.

"In the first few years, as expected, the insulating effect of the snow helped the vegetation to grow, but after six years a tipping point was reached where the fungus spread with great speed and destroyed the plants.

"We need to look more carefully in the future at longer term vegetation and fungus life cycles to see if this is something that could recur and be more destructive over time."

The research team from Durham University, UK; Umeå University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden; and the Finnish Forest Research Institute, compared the effects of normal snowfall conditions and increased snow conditions on vegetation.

Researchers used snow fences to maintain increased snow conditions, and found that the fungus, Arwidssonia empetri, increased under heavier and prolonged snow cover killing the majority of the shoots of one of the dominant plant species in that area – the dwarf shrub Empetrum hermaphroditum. The team's unexpected finding followed a decision to keep the experiment running longer than was originally planned.

The researchers believe that the findings highlight unforeseen elements that should be factored into future modelling of the impacts of climate change and its effects on vegetation and food-web chains.

Co-author of the report, Johan Olofsson, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, Sweden, said: "We set out to look at the effects of climate change and the potential of heavier precipitation and snowfall on plants and the processes that influence growth, decomposition and soil nutrients.

"Shrubs are an important part of the arctic vegetation and we did not expect to find a deadly species-to-species effect influenced by this manipulated snow accumulation."

Snow usually protects arctic plants through the long winter period as it maintains a warmer local environment around the overwintering plants and helps them to grow bigger and faster.

During the seven year experiment, the researchers observed steady plant growth under the protection of the snow's insulating blanket. In year six, the fungus spread rapidly, killing the plant and changing the vegetation from a natural carbon sink to a net carbon source.

Co-author of the report, Lars Ericson, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, Sweden, said: "We discovered some surprising interactions between plants and other organisms in an area that is very important for the world's climate. The results will enable us to have a better understanding of longer term climate change effects and extreme weather events, locally and regionally."

The study has been funded by The Natural Environment Research Council, UK; the Centre for Environmental research in Umeå, Sweden; and the Swedish Research Council for the Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning.

The Abisko Scientific Research Station provided accommodation, laboratory facilities and funding during the periods of field work. The research team is continuing the study to investigate the extent and duration of vegetation change under altered snow conditions.

Dionne Hamil | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.dur.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Fossil coral reefs show sea level rose in bursts during last warming
19.10.2017 | Rice University

nachricht NASA finds newly formed tropical storm lan over open waters
17.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electrode materials from the microwave oven

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

New material for digital memories of the future

19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>