21 October 2021, UK: “Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology mean that we can now determine which fungi are present even when there are no visible indications they are there. We can identify fungal communities directly from small soil samples, which gives us a fantastic insight into the previously hidden diversity beneath our feet”
Would you like to climb a mountain in the Cairngorms this summer in the name of science? The James Hutton Institute have partnered with Plantlifeto discover more about the fungi that lie beneath the surface of the 58 Munros of the Cairngorms National Park.
Biodiversity in the Cairngorms is changing as a result of climate change, pollution, grazing and recreation. However, very little is currently known about the below-ground biodiversity of mountain habitats. The Cairngorms Fungi Study is aiming to create a picture of how fungal diversity varies across these iconic mountains.
The project is looking for volunteers to collect samples from each of three widespread and distinctive types of vegetation which are present on most Munros. These three vegetation types are dominated by mosses, grasses and dwarf shrubs. Volunteers are also being asked to choose a fourth ‘lucky dip’ sample from a different vegetation type, somewhere that looks interesting, to find out what is living beneath the surface!
Dr Andy Taylor, a fungal ecologist at the James Hutton Institute said: “Soils are among the most biodiverse habitats on earth, but until recently, exploring this biodiversity has been very difficult because organisms such as fungi could only really be detected when they produced fruiting bodies above ground. However, many fungi produce fruitbodies very rarely or not at all, and when they are produced, they may not persist for long, so the chances of detecting them are very low.”
“Recent advances in DNA sequencing technology mean that we can now determine which fungi are present even when there are no visible indications they are there. We can identify fungal communities directly from small soil samples, which gives us a fantastic insight into the previously hidden diversity beneath our feet.”
Volunteers are invited to adopt one or more of the Munros within the Cairngorms National Park. For each Munro a 1km square which contains or is very close to the Munro summit has been selected for the survey. Volunteers will be provided with survey packs containing a sampling kit and detailed information on where and how to collect samples and return them for analysis. Once the analysis is complete, project scientists will feedback to the volunteers on the discoveries that have been made. The project began in July and will run to September 2021, more information on how to get involved can be found on the project website.
Notes to editors
Plantlife Scotland: Plantlife’s new and ambitious National Heritage Lottery Funded project, Rare Plants and Wild Connections, empowers people to take action to save and support our rarest wild plant populations across the species rich grasslands, pinewoods and arctic-alpine habitats of the celebrated Cairngorms mountains. Its goals include developing technology to monitor and understand the impact of climate change on fragile mountain-top habitats as well as gathering citizen science information to help save the arctic alpine flora of the Cairngorm mountains. Through this project we are working with land managers, local communities, organisations and visitors to the National Park.
This project delivers the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan, an informal partnership of organisations and people with a commitment to the precious wildlife of Cairngorms National Park and is also funded by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.