Phylogeny and Ecophysiology of Opportunistic “Snow Molds” from a Subalpine Forest Ecosystem
Mats of coenocytic “snow molds” are commonly observed covering the soil and litter of alpine and subalpine areas immediately following snow melt. Here, we describe the phylogenetic placement, growth rates, and metabolic potential of cold-adapted fungi from under-snow mats in the subalpine forests of Colorado. SSU rDNA sequencing revealed that these fungi belong to the zygomycete orders Mucorales and Mortierellales. All of the isolates could grow at temperatures observed under the snow at our sites (0°C and −2°C) but were unable to grow at temperatures above 25°C and were unable to grow anaerobically. Growth rates for these fungi were very high at −2°C, approximately an order of magnitude faster than previously studied cold-tolerant fungi from Antarctic soils. Given the rapid aerobic growth of these fungi at low temperatures, we propose that they are uniquely adapted to take advantage of the flush of nutrient that occurs at the soil–snow interface beneath late winter snow packs. In addition, extracellular enzyme production was relatively high for the Mucorales, but quite low for the Mortierellales, perhaps indicating some niche separation between these fungi beneath the late winter snow pack.
KeywordsPhenol Oxidase Extracellular Enzyme Activity Snow Pack Subalpine Forest Radial Growth Rate
This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (MCB-0455606, DEB-0426116). We thank J. Longcore and D.R. Simmons for providing isolates AF016 and AF010.
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