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Fungi, often seen as pests, play a crucial role policing biodiversity in rainforests

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Posted January 23, 2014
Meet the rainforest 'diversity police'
This is a shot of the rainforest canopy in Belize, where researchers found that fungi helped to police biodiversity in plants. Credit: Owen Lewis
A new study has revealed that fungi, often seen as pests, play a crucial role policing biodiversity in rainforests.

The Oxford University-led research found that fungi regulate diversity in rainforests by making dominant species victims of their own success. Fungi spread quickly between closely-packed plants of the same species, preventing them from dominating and enabling a wider range of species to flourish.

‘In the plant world, close relatives make bad neighbours,’ said Dr Owen Lewis of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, who led the study. ‘Seedlings growing near plants of the same species are more likely to die and we now know why. It has long been suspected that something in the soil is responsible, and we’ve now shown that fungi play a crucial role. It’s astonishing to see microscopic fungi having such a profound effect on entire rainforests.

‘Fungi prevent any single species from dominating rainforests as they spread more easily between plants and seedlings of the same species. If lots of plants from one species grow in the same place, fungi quickly cut their population down to size, levelling the playing field to give rarer species a fighting chance. Plots sprayed with fungicide soon become dominated by a few species at the expense of many others, leading to a marked drop in diversity.’

Read more at: Phys.org

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