Science / Pillbugs may help slow global warming

Pillbugs may be able to limit the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from soil as the climate warms, Pacific Standard reports. The study, published online before print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how the small crustaceans prey on soil microbes called basidiomycetes, which, as temperatures rise, multiply faster and release enzymes that speed up decomposition, thus releasing more carbon dioxide. In a series of experiments, the researchers found that warmer temperatures and increased nitrogen inputs did increase the numbers of basidiomycetes when there were no pillbugs in the soil. When the soil sample included pillbugs and fungi, however, themass of fungus was similar to that of control samples, overall wood decomposition rates had slowed, and more carbon stayed in the ground, the researchers say.

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