Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Microscopic fungi may have contributed to largest mass extinction - 9th Aug 2011

A microscopic fungi may have contributed to the largest mass extinction in history — and may lead to a fungal disease increase in today’s forests due to the climate change, according to a study by a UC Berkeley professor and her collaborators in Europe.

The study, which will be published in the September issue of the journal Geology, identifies 250-year-old fungal marine fossils to be relatives of the modern-day fungi group Rhizoctonia, which is known to spread deadly pathogens to plants.

“The sediments contain fossils that look like the resting structures of the modern fungi Rhizoctonia,” said Cindy Looy, assistant professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and an author of the paper. “The interesting thing is that Rhizoctonia is partially pathogenic, which means microbes in the soil can attack an kill entire ecosystems that are under environmental stress.”

According to Looy, during the mass extinction that occurred at the close of the Permian era about 250 million years ago, ecosystems suffered environmental stresses from volcanic eruptions, which spewed carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere and probably destroyed some of the Earth’s ozone layer. In such an environmental crisis, fungal pathogens can become very active, and in this case, accelerate tree mortality, Looy said. Read More