Fungi and other soil organisms are key in preserving biodiversity

Fungi are often seen as fruiting bodies, or toadstools (© Camila Duarte)

Largely invisible and often overseen, fungi and other microscopic organisms are highly abundant in soils across the world, and play a fundamental in maintaining the biodiversity and nutrient balances in their ecosystem.

Fungi, although visible in the form of fruiting bodies, or toadstools, during certain times, are largely invisible, existing as microbial threads in the soil. It is estimated that there are some 3.8 million species of fungi, only a fraction of which have been formally described and identified. These organisms are incredibly abundant in soils around the world, an are a key component of biological nutrient cycling, as they break down organic matter, releasing key nutrients and compounds from dead bodies. Fungi are found in a variety of areas such as rainforest, woodland, grasslands and even rocky substrates (in the form of lichens) but are most abundant in open areas such as grasslands and Savannah, where they are important in helping poorer soil uptake nutrients.

Fungi exist mainly as a bundle of microbial threads called a mycelium (© Nigel Cattlin)

In the Amazon rainforest for example, fungi are surprisingly abundant and varied. For example, a teaspoon of rainforest soil is estimated to contain around 1800 species of microscopic organisms (according to a study carried out by Dr Camila Duarte of Germany), at least 400 of which are fungi. These fungi are so diverse and they occupy a variety of niches in the forest, such as lichen (a symbiotic relationship between fungi and microscopic plants), some living commensally in the roots of plants and some as plant pathogens and parasites. Each and every one of these plays a significant role on the forest floor, breaking down organic matter and releasing nutrients back into the soil, to be used by plants and animals.

In this sense, the sheer diversity of fungi in the soil means that it is essential to consider this hidden diversity in conservation efforts, particularly in such fragile ecosystems as the Amazon rainforests. Due to their inconspicuous nature fungi are often overlooked in biological surveys, but they are key for nutrient cycling and also act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from dead organisms.

An abundance of fungal species are found in the soils of the Amazon rainforest (© Nathalia Segato)


Some species are also edible, and are a source of medicine, indeed fungal compounds are being considered as new antibiotic sources in the light of antibiotic resistance. On the other hand, some fungi are considerable pests to crops, while others are disease-causing pathogens which cause disease in humans and animals. There is much to learn about soil fungal diversity, in order to incorporate these organisms into conservation efforts, and to help maintain biodiversity.

World Ocean Day 2020

Happy #WorldOceanDay, a day to celebrate our wonderful oceans and all the biodiversity that calls the ocean their home. Our oceans are so diverse, but we would like to focus on a fascinating species today:The Atlantic Salmon! Have a go at our poster, where you can learn the life cycle of the salmon and colour them in! Please share any completed activity sheets with us (drop us a message!) We love to hear from you 🙂

Atlantic Salmon Activity Sheet Answers

Here are the answers for the our ‘World Ocean Day 2020’ colouring sheet:

The figure has been adapted from:

Kryvi, H., Rusten, I., Fjelldal, P.G., Nordvik, K., Totland, G.K., Karlsen, T., Wiig, H. and Long Jr, J.H., 2017. The notochord in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) undergoes profound morphological and mechanical changes during development. Journal of anatomy, 231(5), pp.639-654.

Isle of Wight Pterosaur fossil hailed as UK first

A fossil recently discovered on the Isle of Wight has been revealed as a first of its kind to be found in the UK. The fossil belonged to an ancient flying reptile which would have soared through the skies of southern England 100 million years ago.


The fossilised jaw fragment was found by an amateur fossil hunter on Sandown beach, Isle of Wight. The delicate fossil was identified as a tapejarid (a type of medium-sized crested pterosaur) by scientists at the university of Portsmouth, recognisable by the characteristic shape of the jaw and minute holes in the jaw, which experts think were used to detect prey. The fossil has been donated to the IoW dinosaur museum for future display.

The fossilised jawbone of this animal was discovered on Sandown beach, IoW (credit: Portsmouth University)

So, what did this animal look like? These pterosaurs were small to medium sized and lived around 100 million years ago, during the cretaceous period. With more curved wings than other species, they are well known for the large bony crests on their heads. It is very likely that these crests would have been highly colourful in real life, almost twice the size of the skull, and probably used to communicate and attract partners, much like many bird species such as pheasants and birds of paradise. There has been much debate concerning the diet of these animals, but it is thought that they fed on plant material, especially considering that flowering plants were diversifying around the time these creatures appeared.

The crest of Tapejarids was likely very colourful and used in courtship (credit: national geographic society)

The fossil is a key finding for our understanding of these creatures; before the discovery of this specimen, the tapejarids were only known from Brazil, Morocco and China, and this find not only demonstrates a very wide distribution of these pterosaurs, but also showcases the diversity of mesozoic species on the island and surrounding area.

Fab Five: Week 4 Answers

Week Commencing 13/04/2020

Species 1: Manatee

1.What do I eat?

I am a herbivore and most of my diet is made up of different types of grass

2. Where do I live?

There are 3 different species of manatee, which is distinguished by where I live. The West Indian manatee ranges along the North American east coast from Florida to Brazil. The Amazonian manatee species inhabit the Amazon River and the African manatee swims along the west coast and rivers of Africa.

3. How large do I get?

I can grow up to 8-13 ft!

Species 2: Leopard

1.Am I diurnal or nocturnal?

I am mainly nocturnal

2. Where do I live?

I can be found in Africa and Asia, from the Middle Eastern nations to Russia, Korea, China, India and Malaysia

3. Do I like spending time on my own or in group?

I like spending time on my own as I am a solitary animal

Species 3: Hummingbird Hawkmoth

1.How big is my wingspan?

My wingspan is around two inches

2. Where do I live?

I spend the winter in Southern Europe and the summer in the U.K.

3. What do I like to eat?

I feed on the nectar of honeysuckle, red valerian and other flowers

Species 4: Dodo

1.What did I eat?

My diet included seeds, nuts, bulbs, roots and fallen fruit. I would also feed on palm fruit, shell fish and crabs

2. What Island did I live on?

I only lived on the island of Mauritius

3. When did I go extinct?

I went extinct in 1681

Species 5: Deer

1.What do I eat?

I am herbivorous, I only eat plants! This includes plants such as grass, bark, twigs, berries and young shoots

2. What do I use my antlers for?

I use my antlers for fighting with other males

3. How big can I grow up to?

I can grow up to 2 metres in length

Fab Five: Week 3 Answers

Week Commencing 06/04/2020

Species 1: Atlantic salmon

1.What do I eat?

I eat insects, invertebrates and plankton when I am young

2. What do you think I find on my journey to the sea and back?

I swim out to the Atlantic into rich feeding grounds. I primarily feed on fish such as capelin, herring and sand eel.

3. How large do I get?

I can grow up to 28-30 inches after two years at sea.

Species 2: African elephant

1.How big do I grow up to?

I can grow up to 8-13 feet from shoulder to toe!

2. Why do I need to cover myself in mud and dust (apart from it being fun!)?  

I cover myself in mud as it acts as a natural sun cream and stops me from getting burnt

3. What is the name of a female elephant that leads a group of elephants?

She is called a Matriarch

Species 3: Tardigrade

1.How big am I?

I range from 0.3 to 0.55 mm in length, although the largest species may reach 1.2mm

2. Where do I live?

I can be found in almost everywhere on earth. I am often found on lichens and mosses because that’s where I like the most

3. What do I like to eat?

I feed on plant and animal cells. Some of us are known to eat entire live organisms (microbes of course) such as rotifers.

Species 4: Velociraptor

1.What did I eat?

I was a carnivore that hunted and scavenged for food. I spent a lot of time eating small things which included reptiles, amphibians, insects, small dinosaurs and mammals

2. When did I live on the earth?

Fossils of me have been found in the Gobi Desert

3. Where was my first fossil found?

My first fossil was found in Mongolia in 1924!

Species 5: Indian Hornbill

1.What do I eat?

I love to eat fruit! My diet mainly consists of fruit, insects and small mammals  

2. Which countries do I live in?

I can be found in the forest of India, Bhutan, Mainland Southeast Asia, Sumatra and North eastern region of India!

3. How big can I grow?

I grow up to 95-120cm!

Orca

“Colour me in so I can swim!

Happy #MarineMonday everyone! I am an Orca, but often referred to as a Killer Whale. I am the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. I send sound waves that travel underwater which is known as echolocation which I use for communicating to my friends and hunting. I have some questions for you:

  1. What do I eat?
  2. Where do I live?
  3. How large do I get?”

Deer

It is finally Friday, and we would like to celebrate our followers by taking species requests on #FollowerFriday. Today’s public choice is a deer! 

“Colour me in so I can graze!

Happy Friday everyone. I am a deer and I am one of more than 40 species that can be found in most parts of the world. I have a great pair of antlers which shed and regrow every year. I am a male as I have these wonderful antlers but my female friend do not. I have some questions for you:

  1. What do I eat?
  2. What do I use my antlers for?
  3. How big can I grow to?”

Dodo

It’s #ThrowbackThursday and we would like to meet our old friend who just to live on Earth.

“Colour me in to preserve me!

Hello, I am a Dodo and I used to live on a lovely island. I am a large, chubby bird that used to live on the ground where I built my nests, as there were not natural predators here during the time I was around. Even though I had wings, I was unable to fly as they were too small to support my round body! I have some questions for you:

  1. What did I eat?
  2. What Island did I live on?
  3. When did I go extinct?”

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Happy hump day everyone! Today is #WeirdWildlifeWednesday and we would like you to meet our strange friend.

“Colour me in so I can carry fly!

Am I a moth or a bird? I am in fact a hummingbird hawkmoth, and I am a moth that looks like a hummingbird. I can fly up to 12 miles an hour with my very fast moving wings, and my wings can flap up to 70 times per second! I have some questions for you:

  1. How big is my wingspan?
  2. Where do I live?
  3. What do I like to eat?”