Spring mushrooms show long term effect of climate change

| 9th December 2009
Spring mushrooms
Warmer weather and reduced frosts linked to climate change are giving a boost to spring mushroom numbers in the UK and Europe
 

Spring mushrooms are popping up around three weeks earlier than 50 years ago due to global warming, according to fungi experts.

An analysis conducted by a team of scientists from the UK and Norway has looked at changes in the time of spring fruiting from data collected by mushroom experts and amateur enthusiasts between 1960 and 2007.

Their findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society today, found that climatic changes can have significant impact on both the fruiting and growth of fungi.

'It is well known that organisms such as birds or plants are laying or flowering earlier, due to higher prevailing temperatures in the spring.  However, we found that higher temperatures as long ago as the previous summer cause fungi to fruit earlier in the following spring,' said Professor Alan Gange, Professor of Microbial Ecology at Royal Holloway and one of the study authors.

Winter growth

Professor Gange said warmer temperatures and fewer ground frosts enable the fungal body of the mushroom, which is normally invisible to the naked eye, to grow throughout the winter.

‘It won’t necessarily mean there are bigger mushrooms but it will certainly mean there are more of them, and they’re appearing earlier in the year,' he said.

An additional consequence of fungi staying more active over the winter is that decomposition and the nutrient cycle become more rapid. For gardeners this means faster rotting compost and faster growing lawns and plants.

Ecosystems speeding up

'The entire pattern of fungal growth has changed, meaning that the vital ecosystem functions of decomposition and nutrient cycling must have speeded up considerably, as our autumns and winters have become warmer,' said Professor Gange.

'This means the disappearance of leaf litter and rotting of things like compost heaps happen more quickly than they used to.  In woodlands tree growth is likely to be quicker because of greater availability of nutrients.'

However, The Royal Horticultural Society Advisory Service said the rate of decomposition was also dependent on levels of moisture in the soil.

‘If, as is likely especially in the South of England, our summers turn hotter and drier this will actually slow down decomposition and nutrient release.’

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