How Well Can Fungi Migrate Under a Changing Climate

EPA Grant Number: FP917191
Title: How Well Can Fungi Migrate Under a Changing Climate
Investigators: Kivlin, Stephanie Nicole
Institution: University of California - Irvine
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2010 through July 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Global Change , Academic Fellowships


It is well known that species ranges are shifting under a changing climate. While the capability of macroorganisms to shift their ranges has been well characterized, the dispersal ability of microorganisms is largely unknown. Characterizing microbial persistence, via range shifts in altered climates, is crucial as these organisms affect primary productivity and decomposition, and cause numerous human and plant diseases. This research project will investigate how soil fungi disperse among and within ecosystems. The results will be the first step in developing a mechanistic model to determine the effects of global change on pathogen spread and environmental microbial distributions.


As global change begins to affect many ecosystems, organisms may need to shift their ranges to maintain ecosystem functioning. Range shifts in plants and animals are common. However, little is known of how microbes can disperse to new areas. This fellow’s research focuses on determining the capability of soil fungi to disperse via the atmosphere. Knowledge from this project will also inform us of how human and plant pathogen transmission will occur in future climates.


Fungal community composition in the soil will be characterized from over 50 locations in Southern California at eight time points. In addition, fungi in the air will collected from five towers bi-monthly. The wind patterns of Southern California are well known, which will allow us to correlate soil and air fungal composition. This data then will be used to create a model of fungal dispersal capabilities in the region.

Expected Results:

Fungal composition of air samples is expected to vary by season and location. Changes in soil fungal community composition are expected to be the largest contributor to alterations in air fungal community composition. Furthermore, we expect that some fungal species will be able to disperse very long ranges, while other species will exhibit restricted distributions. These variations in dispersal capabilities will be utilized to create a model of how fungal species, including human and plant pathogens, will shift their ranges under global change.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

We currently do not understand how pathogens and environmental microbes will respond to global climate change. This research is the first step to determine how microbial distributions will shift in future climates. The results from this study will inform public health officials of potential alterations in pathogen loads. Additionally, ecologists will be informed of possible changes in environmental microbial distributions that will impact ecosystem-level nutrient cycling.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, fungi, microbes, atmosphere, dispersal, range shifts, pathogens, nutrient cycling,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final