Populations of fungi blanketed by Colorados snows are more active and diverse than previously thought, and are likely responsible for the productivity of the tundra ecosystem they are a part of, according to findings by scientists funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF)s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) and Microbial Observatories programs. The researchers have published their results in this weeks issue of the journal Science.
"Microbial-level investigations are integral to developing an overall understanding of the alpine ecology at Niwot Ridge LTER site in the Colorado front range."
Photo by Timothy Seastedt, Niwot LTER
Christopher Schadt, now of the Department of Energys Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and a former graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said "the discovery should help scientists gain greater insight into decomposition rates, carbon cycles and the roles of individual fungi in those processes." Surprisingly, the number of active microorganisms in tundra soils, for at least the top 10 centimeters, (about four inches) peaks when the soils are covered with snow. Schadt and colleagues performed their research at the Niwot Ridge, Colo., LTER site. Niwot Ridge is located some 12,000 feet atop the Rocky Mountains.
"The finding that microorganisms are interacting with tundra soils to a great extent highlights the important role of the snowpack in creating a unique and crucial environment in tundra ecosystems in Colorado and likely in other locations that are covered with snow for long periods of time in winter," said Henry Gholz, LTER program director at NSF.
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