Articles | Volume 7, issue 17
07 Sep 2007
07 Sep 2007

Contribution of fungi to primary biogenic aerosols in the atmosphere: wet and dry discharged spores, carbohydrates, and inorganic ions

W. Elbert, P. E. Taylor, M. O. Andreae, and U. Pöschl

Abstract. Biogenic aerosols play important roles in atmospheric chemistry physics, the biosphere, climate, and public health. Here, we show that fungi which actively discharge their spores with liquids into the air, in particular actively wet spore discharging Ascomycota (AAM) and actively wet spore discharging Basidiomycota (ABM), are a major source of primary biogenic aerosol particles and components. We present the first estimates for the global average emission rates of fungal spores.

Measurement results and budget calculations based on investigations in Amazonia (Balbina, Brazil, July 2001) indicate that the spores of AAM and ABM may account for a large proportion of coarse particulate matter in tropical rainforest regions during the wet season (0.7–2.3 μg m−3). For the particle diameter range of 1–10 μm, the estimated proportions are ~25% during day-time, ~45% at night, and ~35% on average. For the sugar alcohol mannitol, the budget calculations indicate that it is suitable for use as a molecular tracer for actively wet discharged basidiospores (ABS). ABM emissions seem to account for most of the atmospheric abundance of mannitol (10–68 ng m−3), and can explain the observed diurnal cycle (higher abundance at night). ABM emissions of hexose carbohydrates might also account for a significant proportion of glucose and fructose in air particulate matter (7–49 ng m−3), but the literature-derived ratios are not consistent with the observed diurnal cycle (lower abundance at night). AAM emissions appear to account for a large proportion of potassium in air particulate matter over tropical rainforest regions during the wet season (17–43 ng m−3), and they can also explain the observed diurnal cycle (higher abundance at night). The results of our investigations and budget calculations for tropical rainforest aerosols are consistent with measurements performed at other locations.

Based on the average abundance of mannitol reported for extratropical continental boundary layer air (~25 ng m−3), we have also calculated a value of ~17 Tg yr−1 as a first estimate for the global average emission rate of ABS over land surfaces, which is consistent with the typically observed concentrations of ABS (~10³–104 m−3; ~0.1–1 μg m−3). The global average atmospheric abundance and emission rate of total fungal spores, including wet and dry discharged species, are estimated to be higher by a factor of about three, i.e. 1 μg m−3 and ~50 Tg yr−1. Comparisons with estimated rates of emission and formation of other major types of organic aerosol (~47 Tg yr−1 of anthropogenic primary organic aerosol; 12–70 Tg yr−1 of secondary organic aerosol) indicate that emissions from fungi should be taken into account as a significant global source of organic aerosol. The effects of fungal spores and related chemical components might be particularly important in tropical regions, where both physicochemical processes in the atmosphere and biological activity at the Earth's surface are particularly intense, and where the abundance of fungal spores and related chemical compounds are typically higher than in extratropical regions.

Final-revised paper