More info about my music is at the dedicated website www.TRANSFORMATES.com
Rain Forests get their name because of the high level of rain they receive. It is generally understood that it is the location of the rainfall that determines the location of the rain forest. However, research published in Science this weekend by the Max Planck Institute for chemistry in Mainz, Germany, provides evidence of the opposite. This research highlights the role played by the forest vegetation, and especially its fungi, in determining where it will rain.
Fungi, as part of their reproductive process, emit potassium salts into the atmosphere when they launch their spores. These potassium salts combine with organic compounds which are also given off by the forest vegetation to create minute atmospheric particles, or aerosols, which provide a surface upon which water vapour can condense and create rain droplets. This condensation is similar to the process that turns water vapour into dew drops on the grass at sunrise or leads to condensed water ‘misting’ on a cold window pane.
Those of us fortunate enough to live near forests are well aware of the wonderful smells and refreshing atmosphere we enjoy walking through these woodlands, especially after it has rained. This comes from a combination of factors including the many organic compounds given off by plants and the high concentration of oxygen created when vegetation removes carbon from carbon dioxide as part of the process of harnessing energy through photosynthesis.
Christopher Pöhlker, a graduate researcher at the Max Planck Institute has been evaluating the emissions from vegetation in the Brazilian Rain Forests near Manaus as part of his PhD studies. Using an 80 meter high tower over the forest he obtained three different kinds of aerosol samples from the air. It is these aerosols which are believed to play a key role in converting the moisture in the atmosphere into mist or droplets of rain. They are, in effect, acting as tiny rain ‘catalysts’.
The aerosol samples were analysed by Pöhlker and his coworkers using the new technique of Scanning Transmission X-Ray Microscopy with Near Edge X-Ray Absorption Fine Structure (STXM-NEXAFS). He expected to find out which volatile compounds, like isoprene, were given off by the plants in the rain forest and wanted to understand their composition. These organic compounds were predicted to be mainly made up from carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. However, to the researcher’s surprise, he found a high percentage, up to 20%, of potassium in the aerosol samples taken from above the rain forest.
This potassium is believed to come from the spore releasing mechanism of the forest fungi. It creates nanometer to micrometer sized condensation ‘nuclei’ to which the other organic molecules in the forest biosphere can stick. These aerosols formed by combining potassium salts with the organic gel-like substances are very effective in converting water vapour to mist and droplets of rain. As a result fungi and plants can have a direct influence on the number and properties of aerosol particles in the air and thereby on the formation and composition of mist and clouds: they are able to influence the amount of precipitation occurring over the rainforest
So next time you take a walk through the forest and admire the beautiful flowers and butterflies (photos featured in some of my recent blogs here and here) take some time to also consider the important role of the humble fungus. This research underscores the crucial part fungi play in maintaining the balance and health of our ecosystem. They may even help us to avoid the worst effects of climate change by ensuring the forests of the world get enough rain to carry out their vital carbon dioxide purging role.
As a tribute to these heroes of the forest biosphere I have added some photos taken over the last couple of weeks of some of the beautiful fungi decorating my local alpine forests (when there was a break in the rain!).
If you are interested in other similar forest and wildlife news issues please either visit my blog archives here or check out the Alpine News archive which I use to bring important news items to the attention of the non-german speaking international community. These articles can be found here.
Enjoy the fungus (and treasure it),
If you would like to learn more about this research project from the Max Planck Institute you will find more information (in German) here and (in English) here. I am indebted to them for providing me with a timely excuse to publish my recent photographs of fungi from the Alpine Forests. In addition to Christopher Pöhlker, acknowledgments to Dr. Ulrich Pöschl and Prof. Dr. Meinrat O. Andreae, all of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and their co-researchers in Germany, Brazil, India and the US. The original paper ‘Biogenic potassium salt particles as seeds for secondary organic aerosol in the Amazon’ was published in Science on August 31, 2012.
Now prepare for an uplifting experience!