New research reveals that mushrooms and other fungi can keep themselves cooler than their environment. The discovery could tell us more about the evolution of these organisms and how they might respond to continued global warming.
Like some of the best scientific discoveriesthis temperature regulation was discovered by chance, when one of the researchers was testing a thermal camera during the pandemic – and noticed that the mushrooms growing in the nearby woods were cooler than the surrounding vegetation.
The researcher then recruited a team of molecular biologists from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and a colleague from the University of Puerto Rico to take a closer look at what was going on.
“Unlike animals and plants, the temperature and thermoregulation of fungi are relatively unknown”, to write the researchers in their published article. “Our data suggest that not only fungi, but also yeast and mold communities can maintain temperatures colder than their environment.”
While mushroom cooling has been reported And observed, it has not been studied so closely. Here, the team analyzed fungi in the wild and other fungal species in the lab to check for temperature differences.
On average, the mushrooms were found to be 2.9°C (5.2°F) colder than ambient air, with an uncertainty range of 1.4°C (2.5°F). With some mushroom species, the temperature of the mushroom was up to 5.9 °C (10.6 °F) colder.
Through laboratory experiments where water content and temperature could be manipulated, the researchers confirmed that fungi regulate their temperature through evapotranspiration, or by releasing water into the air. Significant amounts of water can be retained under the mushroom caps before being released slowly and evenly.
Additionally, other types of mushrooms can perform the same trick, with colonies tending to be cooler closer to the center. This seems to happen regardless of the outside temperature, even if it is close to freezing.
“We show that yeast and mold colonies are also cooler than their surroundings and use the process of evapotranspiration to release heat,” to write Researchers. “Relative coldness appears to be a general characteristic observed throughout the fungal kingdom.”
As fungi make up about 2% of Earth’s biomass, their cooling properties can help regulate local environments. The researchers tested this by making a basic mushroom-powered cooler as part of their study. They have used Agaricus bisporus to effectively reduce the temperature inside an airtight enclosure – further proof of the cooling ability of mushrooms.
This thermoregulation is important not only to better understand fungi, but also to model climate change. These organisms play a vital role in the ecological cycles on Earth, and we need to know how they will adapt in the future and how they might help other plants and animals adapt as well.
What the team didn’t address here is exactly why mushrooms like to stay cool. Previous search suggests that vapor water loss allows fungi to create local airflow to help disperse their spores, but many questions remain.
“The extent to which fungal temperatures vary with their environmental niche likely involves several factors that require further study,” to write Researchers.
“The temperature of wild fungi, as well as yeast and mold colonies, relative to their environment varies by genus, suggesting that there may be species-specific differences in their abilities to dissipate heat.”
The research has been published in PNAS.