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Arctic snow harbors deadly assassin
Date:6/19/2011

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 foodweb 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; Ume 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
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Contact: Dionne Hamil
dionne.hamil@dur.ac.uk
44-191-334-6078
Durham University
Source:Eurekalert

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