Arctic Life/Arctic Fungi

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An Arctic mushroom. Photo courtesy of Marine Science.

Like the animals and plants which occur in the Arctic, polar fungi have evolved physiological and morphological characteristics to aid their survival. Instant cold-hardiness is a characteristic common to all species of fungi that grow in the Arctic. Periodic hard frosts in mid-summer make it imperative for polar fungi to be able to resume growth immediately in the brief growing season. To survive low temperatures fungi produce substances, such as glycerol, proline, and trehalose, which act as cryoprotectants. These solutes protect hyphal cells from potentially lethal shrinkage and ice crystal formation.

In the polar deserts of Canada's High Arctic, the lack of water is a constant threat to survival. However, xerophilic fungi are capable of survival and growth under these conditions. In fact, some of these fungi can grow and reproduce with water activity (water available in the substrate for use) as low as 0.65 (most vascular plants wilt when water activity falls below 0.98). This tolerance of water scarcity is aided by compounds such as proline, glycerol, and mannitol, which enable enzymes to function efficiently under water stress.

The third major threat to survival in the Arctic is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UV-B radiation splits the water molecules in hyphal cells into free radicals, which can damage DNA. To avoid this effect, some arctic fungi have developed a mycelium and spores with dark pigmentation, which UV-B rays cannot readily penetrate. Other arctic fungi have developed mechanisms enabling the rapid repair of damaged DNA.

To learn more about polar fungi adaptations, please browse below.

Cool Facts

The Fungi kingdom contains some of the most interesting organisms on our planet. This is especially true in the Arctic, where harsh living conditions have resulted in super cool fungi facts. Please browse below to learn fun trivia about polar fungi.

Fungal Biology

The Kingdom fungi is extremely biologically unique, containing at least 100,000 identified species.[1] Although, it is speculated that approximately 5.1 million fungal species exist, as of 2017.[1]

To explore intriguing biological knowledge regarding the kingdom fungi, please browse below.

Terrestrial Species

Although not enough work has been done to provide an accurate species count, it is known that hundreds of different fungal species occur in tundra habitats.

  • 1.0 1.1 Peralta, Rosane Marina; da Silva, Bruna Polacchineda; Gomes Côrrea, Rúbia Carvalho; Kato, Camila Gabriel; Vicente Seixas, Flávio Augusto; Bracht, Adelar (2017). Enzymes from Basidiomycetes—Peculiar and Efficient Tools for Biotechnology. Maringa, Brazil: Academic Press. p. 119-149.