UT researchers: the number of fungal species has been greatly overestimated | University of Tartu
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Contacts of UT units

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Faculty phone: 
(+372) 737 5341
Faculty address: 
Jakobi 2 - 116-121, 51014, Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5341
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 116 - 121, 51014, Tartu
  • Institute of History and Archaeology
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5651
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51014, Tartu
  • Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5221
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51014, Tartu
  • Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5314
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, III, rooms 309-352, 51014, Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5223
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 16, 51003, Tartu
  • School of Theology and Religious Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18-310, 50090, Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 3, 51003, Tartu
  • Viljandi Culture Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 435 5232
    Faculty address: 
    Posti 1, 71004, Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty phone: 
(+372) 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003, Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003, Tartu
  • Institute of Education
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a, room 29, 50103, Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, roomm 301, 51003, Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 4, 50409, Tartu
  • Institute of Psychology
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    (+372) 737 5902
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409, Tartu
  • School of Law
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  • Narva College
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Faculty of Medicine
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Ravila 19, 50411, Tartu
  • Dean's Office
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    Ravila 19, 50411, Tartu
  • Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine
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  • Institute of Pharmacy
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    Nooruse 1, 50411, Tartu
  • Institute of Dentistry
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    Raekoja plats 6, 51003, Tartu
  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
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    L. Puusepa 8, 51014, Tartu, Eesti
  • Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health
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    (+372) 737 4190
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5-205, 51014, Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
(+372) 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46-208, 51014, Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46 - 208, 51014, Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 2, 50409, Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618, Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi Str 1, 50411, Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
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    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411, Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
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    J. Liivi 2, 50409, Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
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  • Institute of Technology
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  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
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    Vanemuise 46, 51014, Tartu
Institutions
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    W.Struve 1, 50091, Tartu
  • Youth Academy
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    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 38, 51003, Tartu
  • Estonian Genome Center
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    Riia 23b, 51010, Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
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    Lossi 25, 51014, Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
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    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51014, Tartu
Support Units
  • Administrative Office
    Faculty phone: 
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51014, Tartu
  • University Office in Tallinn
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    Faculty address: 
    Teatri väljak 3, 10143 Tallinn
  • Estates Office
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    Ülikooli 18a, 51014, Tartu
  • Finance Office
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    Jakobi 4, 51014, Tartu
  • Information Technology Office
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  • Internal Audit Office
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  • Marketing and Communication Office
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  • Office of Academic Affairs
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090, Tartu
  • Office of Research and Development
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    Lossi 3, III korrus, 51003, Tartu
  • Human Resources Office
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    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090, Tartu
  • Rector's Strategy Office
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  • Student Council
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UT researchers: the number of fungal species has been greatly overestimated

A study led by the researchers of the University of Tartu Natural History Museum discovered that the most species-rich fungal communities are in tropical rainforests. The estimated global species richness of fungi, 1.5–5.1 million species, however, seems to be a vast overestimation, according to their data.

“Together with 35 research institutions we collected approximately 15,000 soil samples from various areas across the world. We then sequenced the DNA in the collected samples, using the new generation sequencing method. When analysing the soil samples, we found more than 45,000 fungal species. To our knowledge, this is the largest dataset of biodiversity studies published so far,” said Leho Tedersoo, Senior Research Fellow of the University of Tartu Natural History Museum and the manager of the project.

“The coordination of the activities of all partners and obtaining all the required permits for getting the samples meant a lot of paperwork. In some countries we could not collect samples just because we could not get the permits. For generalisations, however, the amount of the collected material is more than enough,” said Tedersoo.

As the main findings, the study concluded that the species richness patterns of fungi in general follow these of plants and animals – i.e. the species richness is the highest in tropical rainforests and general rules of biogeography apply. In the past, it was commonly held that the latter do not apply to microorganisms – that all forms are present everywhere depending on the substrate. The study found that the number of fungal species in the world has been greatly overestimated.

“We discovered that endemism – the phenomenon that particular species live only in a rather limited area – is also very common among fungi,” explained Tedersoo. Tedersoo added that there are also many species that are spread across the world, such as mould and animal pathogens. “Although the spread of plant and animal species in the temperate climate zone of the northern hemisphere is limited to continents, many fungal species are equally spread in Asia, North America and Europe. This indicates that fungi have a more efficient spreading mechanism: microscopic spores,” said Tedersoo.

“The research findings will not save the world, but help the researchers understand the global biological processes much better. As the species richness and spread of fungi mostly depend on precipitation, temperature and vegetation, it can be assumed that climate change strongly affects mycobiota in dry and cool regions. The good news for the Estonian mycophile is that when it comes to mycorrhizal fungi, which include almost all edible and poisonous mushrooms, the forests of our climate zone are the richest in species. The age-old Abruka limetree forest holds the record,” said Tedersoo.

In the future, the working group of ecology of biological interactions is planning to focus on detecting functional difference in soil organisms in different ecosystems of the world, to show how these organisms have adapted to different climatic and soil-formation processes and to historical-biogeographical factors.

“Such analyses require computational power and cloud services, which are available in the PlutoF system and at the High Performance Computing Center of the University of Tartu,” said Tedersoo. “Huge work has been done by my colleagues Mohammad Bahram, Sergei Põlme, Urmas Kõljalg and Kessy Abarenkov. These days, analyses of such scale cannot even be conducted by a single researcher or a small working group.”

The article describing the findings was published on 27 November in the journal Science.

Additional information: Leho Tedersoo, Senior Research Fellow of the University of Tartu Natural History Museum, tel: +372 5665 4986, email: leho.tedersoo [ät] ut.ee.

Virge Tamme
Press Officer of the UT
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Mobile: +372 5815 5392
E-mail: virge.tamme [ät] ut.ee
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