Characterisation of cold-tolerant fungi from a decomposing High Arctic moss

Garwai Leung, Geoffrey D. Robson, Clare H. Robinson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Given that changes in the patterns of vegetation and size of carbon (C) pools in the Arctic are likely to be profound by the end of this century, it is necessary to characterise the identity and ecological groupings, in terms of temperature response and C substrate utilisation, of saprotrophic (decomposer) fungi in organic matter in Arctic soils. Thus, the aims of this study were: (1) to identify the fungi isolated from standing-dead material of Schistidium apocarpum, as an example of a High Arctic moss, (2) to determine mycelial extension rates of these fungi at a range of temperatures (4, 10 and 25 °C), and (3) to characterise the functional potential, defined by C substrate utilisation at 6 °C, of fungal taxa. Fungi were isolated at 4 °C from standing-dead material of S. apocarpum from an area of polar semi-desert (79 degrees N), close to Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, in the High Arctic. From a collection of 662 isolates, 43 pure cultures were identified by DNA extraction, amplification, and sequencing. Phoma sclerotioides, previously known as a temperate snow mould, was isolated most frequently. The ecology of fifteen fungal isolates was characterised in detail. In terms of temperature response, two groups were apparent, one of truly psychrophilic/psychrotrophic fungi and one of more mesophilic fungi which were generally less frequently isolated. In terms of carbon substrate utilisation in semi-defined solid media, most fungi could utilise a variety of carbon substrates (degradation of casein, cellulose and starch was widespread), except for tannic acid (degraded by only two of the five P. sclerotioides isolates and Scytalidium lignicola) and lignin and chitin (not decomposed by any isolate). The majority of isolates had been recorded previously from polar environments and/or as being able to survive at low temperatures. Fungi in tundra ecosystems, therefore, have significant potential to mineralise C at temperatures below 10 °C. A better understanding of the ecology of these fungi will allow us to improve predictions of C dynamics in arctic biomes in the future. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1975-1979
    Number of pages4
    JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


    • Arctic
    • Bryophyte
    • Carbon cycling
    • Cellulose
    • Cold adaptation
    • Decomposition
    • Fungi
    • Mycelial extension rate
    • Polyphenolics
    • Psychrophile
    • Psychrotroph
    • Substrate utilisation


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