From: Tom Marshall, Planet Earth On Line
Published April 15, 2012 08:39 AM

Fungal disease threat seen increasing

Fungal diseases are a major threat not just to wild plants and animals, but to us.

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A new Nature paper shows we're already heading for huge fungal damage to vital crops and ecosystems over the coming decades. If we don't do more to stop these diseases' spread, their impact could be devastating.

Fungi already destroy at least 125 million tonnes a year of rice, wheat, maize and potatoes and soybeans, worth $60 billion. Researchers estimate that in 2009-10, this lost food could have fed some 8.5 per cent of the world's people. And this is just the result of persistent low-level infection; simultaneous epidemics in several major crops could mean billions starve.

But the threat has gained a new urgency lately, and crops aren't the only thing at risk. More and more of these killer fungi are appearing, and they're increasingly attacking animals.
Emerging fungal epidemics already account for 72 per cent of extinctions from disease — more than bacteria and viruses put together. For instance, amphibians are being wiped out at an unprecedented rate by a deadly chytrid fungus that's been spread by the global animal trade; at least 500 species are thought to be at risk. Likewise, bats are being struck down by so-called White Nose Syndrome, which has spread all over North America since it was first spotted in 2006.

Illustration of fungal mycelium via Shutterstock.

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