IAB Research Project Description

IPY: A Community Genomics Investigation of Fungal Adaptations to Cold

Fungi survive, reproduce, and carry out diverse biogeochemical transformations in arctic soils that are extremely cold, often dry, and mostly snow covered. Clearly, these fungi are adapted to extremes of cold and dark. Yet our knowledge of the identities and activities of these cold-adapted fungi is negligible.

Principal investigator Donald “Lee” Taylor and colleagues are conducting a large-scale community genomics analysis of fungi in the Arctic to provide insights into the diversity, metabolism, and seasonal dynamics of cold-adapted fungi. Taylor’s goal is to better understand fungal adaptation to cold.

The necessary first steps to achieving this aim are to determine which species actually occur in the coldest climates and which species are metabolically active at the coldest temperatures. While focused on adaptation, Taylor’s project will also inform ecosystem ecology. Polar regions provide significant ecosystem services to society, including climate regulation. The ongoing changes in polar regions, which are often more rapid and of larger magnitude than in lower latitudes, are having uncertain effects on ecosystem services, particularly positive and negative feedbacks to global warming.

Two key interrelated uncertainties are

1) how vegetation patterns will change, and how these changes will feed back to climate, and

2) how soil carbon pools will change with changing patterns of permafrost, soil temperatures and vegetation cover. Mycorrhizal fungi strongly influence plant growth and community structure through their roles as ubiquitous symbionts of arctic plants.

Decomposer fungi strongly influence rates and patterns of respiratory carbon release to the atmosphere, as well as mineralization and immobilization of the limiting nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. Hence, soil-dwelling fungi are central players in both vegetation change and carbon dynamics, and therefore, in our uncertainties about climate change and the future of polar regions. Taylor’s team has three specific objectives:

1) To reveal which fungal species are most adapted to extreme arctic environmental conditions by characterizing the changes in fungal communities along three latitudinal gradients (North American Arctic Transect, Eurasia, Spitsbergen) using high-throughput, DNA-based clone-library sequencing.

2) To test whether predicted changes in climate will select for more southerly or northerly fungal communities using reciprocal soil warming and cooling experiments and clone-library sequencing at the Toolik Lake and Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites.

3) To characterize the components of the fungal communities that are metabolically active in both summer and winter using our newly developed RNA-based library sequencing method.

Project Funding

National Science Foundation
IAB Proposal #06-117
UAF Grant #G3820
IAB Project #172

Media Contact

Marie Thoms
Communications/Web Manager
Institute of Arctic Biology
302A Irving I
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000
email: methoms@alaska.edu
phone: 907.474.7412