Fungi important in Arctic nitrogen cycle

May 9, 2006

U.S. biologists say a new method of calculating nitrogen transfer from mushrooms to plants is proving that fungi is important in the Arctic nitrogen cycle.

Researchers from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., say they are gaining insight into how fungi living symbiotically on plant roots transfer vital nutrients to their hosts.

The analytical technique was developed by John Hobbie, co-director of the MBL's Ecosystems Center, and his son, Erik Hobbie of the University of New Hampshire. They say the method may be applied to nearly all conifers, oaks, beeches, birch and shrubs, such as blueberry and cranberry -- in fact, all nitrogen-poor ecosystems -- and will be an important tool for future studies of plant nitrogen supply.

Although scientists have long known when soil nitrogen is in short supply, mycorrhizal fungi transfer nutrients to their host plants in exchange for plant sugars derived from photosynthesis, the rates of transfer had never been quantified in the field.

The study is published in the April issue of the journal Ecology.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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