November 26, 2013
Self-Created Air Currents Help Mushrooms Disperse Their Spores
[ Watch the Video: Mushrooms Create Their Own Wind ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe OnlineMushrooms can alter the moisture of the air around them, effectively creating their own wind in order to help their spores disperse over a wide area, according to research presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics.
According to The Telegraph, experts had previously believed that mushrooms were passive seed spreaders, simply releasing their spores and allowing them to be carried away by air currents. However, the spores can still be dispersed even when there is no noticeable wind blowing, leading a team of US scientists to find out why.
Emilie Dressaire, a professor of experimental fluid mechanics at Trinity College, and UCLA assistant professor of mathematics Marcus Roper used high-speed videography and mathematical spore dispersal models in commercially grown Shittake and oyster mushrooms to discover that the fungi cooled the air around them by releasing water vapor.
This cooling leads to the creation of convection currents, generating small-scale winds strong enough to lift the spores into the air and even move them away from the mushroom. In fact, Roper told Discovery News that the currents can carry spores up to four inches (10 centimeters) horizontally and vertically.
Since mushrooms typically live in tightly-packed areas not subject to natural winds, this ability helps the fungi deliver their seeds to new, moist locations where they can land and begin growing, he added.
“Most people, even scientists, think of mushrooms simply as machines for producing spores. The more spores each machine produces, the more likely it to successfully colonize new habitats,” Roper noted. However, his team’s findings suggest that there is more going on than initially believed.
Likewise, in a statement, Dressaire said that the currents are powerful enough to allow mushrooms to “disperse their spores even in the most inhospitable surroundings,” noting that this type of mechanism could be used by all types of mushroom fungi – even those which are known to cause disease in plants, animals, and humans.
“Our research shows that these 'machines' are much more complex than that: they control their local environments, and create winds where there were none in nature,” she added. “That's pretty amazing, but fungi are ingenious engineers.”
Harvard University organismic and evolutionary biology professor Anne Pringle, who recently completed research demonstrating that fungi can also spread their spores in other ways (such as by firing them rapidly and at high speeds), told Discovery News that the new study is additional proof that organisms such as mushrooms can actively manipulate their environment.
Image 2 (below): The spores released by an Amanita form a cloud of bright little specks. Credit: Patrick Hickey