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Importance of pathogenic fungi for the marine carbon cycle

Research project Fungi are one of the most understudied microbial groups in aquatic environments. It is likely that fungi influence the carbon cycle, and the biogeochemistry and ecosystem functioning in marine systems. They might also be promoted by climate change.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2021-01-01 2023-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå Marine Sciences Centre (UMF)

Research area

Ecology, Marine science

Project description

Fungi are one of the most understudied microbial groups in aquatic environments. The importance of the microbial loop, including e.g. bacteria and protozoa, is today well known, but the presence and function of fungi have so far been neglected. This is a severe knowledge gap, since it is likely that fungi influence the carbon cycle, and the biogeochemistry and ecosystem functioning in aquatic/marine systems.

The use of molecular techniques in plankton studies have shown that fungi occur abundantly in seawater. One re-occurring group is Chytridiomycota (chytrids), which are parasites on phytoplankton. They infect all major phytoplankton groups, including diatoms, dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria. Thereby, chytrides may impose direct top-down control on phytoplankton, altering their biomass, population dynamics and genetic diversity.

We will address the following questions:

  • What are the links between chytrids and specific plankton?
  • Do chytrids constrain phytoplankton growth?
  • Do chytrid infections facilitate carbon transfer up the food web?

Field studies will be performed in the Baltic Sea and multivariate/network analyzes applied to find links between chytrids and other organisms and to study their adaptation to specific environmental conditions. Further, infection experiments will be performed to elucidate how chytrids affect the energy channeling in the food web.