The fungi destroyed by global warming might just be the key to preventing the planet from becoming a giant ball of greenhouse gasses. A group of researchers at UC Irvine in California have discovered that rising temperatures are killing mushrooms in the forests of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and other northern areas. But the dead, dried fungi actually produced far less carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) than their chillier, living counterparts. So much less that the researchers believe it might be enough to reduce global warming by several degrees. The carbon dioxide output of these cold-weather fungi is important because they come from regions that are responsible for 30 percent of the world's carbon output from soil. Left to live out their natural lives the shrooms would emit quite a bit of carbon dioxide — and scientists had previously thought they'd emit even more after dying. To find out for sure, ecology researchers compared the carbon dioxide output of fungi in two different greenhouses: One at traditional, chilly temperatures, and one warmed by the 5 degrees that experts predict will result from climate change. Once the mushrooms warmed up, they died and significantly cut down on the overall carbon dioxide output of the forest biosphere. In the study, published today in Global Change Biology, the authors write that "soil in warmed greenhouses produced about half as much carbon dioxide as soil in cooler control plots." So that means some of nature's biggest carbon dioxide factories might cut their production in half once the planet starts heating up. Evolutionary biologist and co-author of the study Kathleen Treseder said:
It's fortuitous for humans that the fungi are negatively affected by this warming. It's not so great for the fungi, but might help offset a little bit of the carbon dioxide we are putting directly into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.