Mushrooms 'create own weather'
Mushrooms have an extraordinary ability to control the weather, scientists have learned.
By altering the moisture of the air around them, they whip up winds that blow away their spores and help them disperse.
Plants use a variety of methods to spread seeds, including gravity, forceful ejection, wind, water and animals. Mushrooms have long been thought of as passive seed spreaders, releasing their spores and then relying on air currents to carry them.
But new research has shown that mushrooms are able to disperse their spores over a wide area even when there is not a breath of wind - by creating their own weather.
Scientists in the US used high-speed filming techniques and mathematical modelling to show how oyster and Shitake mushrooms release water vapour that cools the air around them, creating convection currents. This in turn generates miniature winds that lift their spoors into the air.
The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics in Pittsburgh, suggest that mushrooms are far more than mechanical spore manufacturers.
"Our research shows that these 'machines' are much more complex than that: they control their local environments, and create winds where there were none in nature," said lead scientist Professor Emilie Dressaire, from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. "That's pretty amazing, but fungi are ingenious engineers."
The scientists believe the same process may be used by all mushroom fungi, including those that cause diseases in plants, animals and humans.
A mushroom - or toadstool - is technically the fleshy, spore-bearing, fruiting body of a fungus.
Millions of spores, microscopic single-celled "seeds", may be produced by a single mushroom, at least a few of which are likely to land somewhere suitable for fungal growth.
More than 80 different types of wild edible mushroom grow in the UK, as well as many poisonous species. One of the world's deadliest mushrooms, the death cap, is a common sight in British woodland. Although pleasant tasting, just one ounce of the fungus is enough to kill.