Community responses to changing climate: Insects in mushrooms

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology

Primary Supervisor:

Alan Gange

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

Alan Gange's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Understanding the ecological consequences of climate change is top of the scientific agenda. Many studies have shown how populations, distributions and phenology of species are changing in response to changes in climate. However, no study has investigated how a complete community responds to climate change. This project aims to fill that gap.
The lack of community studies is because most natural habitats contain so many interacting species that the problem has been intractable. However, the insect community that develops within mushrooms provides a unique model for study. There is a perfect background to the work, as the insects and their parasites that develop within mushrooms are well characterised. Furthermore, fungal fruiting patterns have changed dramatically in the UK over the last 65 y. Many species now start to fruit much earlier and/or continue fruiting later in the autumn and some have started to fruit twice a year, in spring also (Gange et al 2007).
Our main aim is to record the insect community and its associated parasites that develop in the fruit bodies of fungi. We will collect wild mushrooms at different times in the year, as well as putting baits of two commercial species into woodlands. We will put baits along elevational gradients, with partners in UK, Norway and Switzerland. Invertebrates will be reared from these fruit bodies. We will determine if communities ‘migrate’ through time intact, following phenological changes in their resource, or whether these higher trophic levels respond individualistically, resulting in community disruption.

Policy Impact of Research:

The wild mushroom industry in the UK is growing and of potentially very high value. English truffles are now cultivated for sale and protecting this valuable resource against insect pests is critical. Understanding the wider impact of climate change on communities is needed to inform Governmental policy on carbon emissions.

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