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Windborne Fungal Spores
Wu, P.-C., Tsai, J.-C., Li, F.-C., Lung, S.-C. and Su, H.-J.  2004.  Increased levels of ambient fungal spores in Taiwan are associated with dust events from China.  Atmospheric Environment 38: 4879-4886.

What was done
The authors collected airborne fungal spores on a continuous basis between December 2000 and April 2001 in Tainan City, southern Taiwan.  Detailed analyses of the spore collections were made on all days classified by the Central Weather Bureau of Taiwan as "yellow sandstorm" days (which derive their burdens of dust and assorted biological materials from the deserts of China), as well as each day that preceded and followed the sandstorm days.

What was learned
Wu et al. report that Cladosporium was the most predominant fungal spore collected, comprising more than 60% of total fungal spores; and they note that "many species within this genus are pathogens to a variety of plants and animals (Banerjee et al., 2002; de Wit and Joosten, 1999; Mariani et al., 2002; Weber, 2002)."  Also frequently present were Basidiospores, which they note "are allergenic (Horner et al., 1993a,b; Lehrer et al., 1994; O'Neil et al., 1998)."  Penicillium and Aspergillus spores were also regularly detected; and Wu et al. state that they "have long been considered to be associated with asthma and other allergic disorders in different regions of the world (Dill and Niggemann, 1996; Garrett et al., 1998; Horner et al., 1995."  During sandstorm days, they further report that atmospheric concentrations of these spores, together with many rare spores, such as Nigospora, Arthrinium, Curvularia, Rusts, Stemphylium, Cercospora and Pithomyces, "were 2-12 times higher than those observed in normal days."

What it means
Wu et al. conclude that their data "support strongly [the hypothesis] that Asian sandstorm events may alter fungal spore compositions in atmospheric environments, and the change might have potential impacts on human health and ecosystem[s]," which impacts, of course, would tend to be detrimental to plants, animals and humans.  Further to this point, we note that Engelstaedter et al. (2003) have demonstrated that "the highest dust storm frequencies (DSFs) are found in areas mapped by DeFries and Townshend (1994) as bare ground," while "moderate DSFs occur in regions with more vegetation, i.e., shrubs & bare ground, and lowest DSFs occur in grasslands, forests, and tundra," where ground cover is highest, so that "average DSF is inversely correlated with leaf area index (an index of vegetation density) and net primary productivity," which is something that is promoted by rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.  Consequently, as the air's CO2 content continues to rise, increasing the vegetative productivity and water use efficiency of earth's plants, we can expect the resulting enhanced ground cover to lead to dust storms with lower burdens of fungal spores to afflict both man and beast in the years and decades to come.

Banerjee, T.K., Patwari, A.K., Dutta, R., Anand, V.K. and Chabra, A.  2002.  Cladosporium bantianum meningitis in a neonate.  Indian Journal of Pediatrics 69: 721-723.

DeFries, R.S. and Townshend, J.R.G.  1994.  NDVI-derived land cover classification at a global scale.  International Journal of Remote Sensing 15: 3567-3586.

de Wit, P.J. and Joosten, M.H.  1999.  Avirulence and resistance genes in the Cladosporium fulvum-tomato interaction.  Current Opinion in Microbiology 2: 368-373.

Dill, I. and Niggemann, B.  1996.  Domestic fungal viable propagules and sensitization in children with IgE mediated allergic diseases.  Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 7: 151-155.

Engelstaedter, S., Kohfeld, K.E., Tegen, I. and Harrison, S.P.  2003.  Controls of dust emissions by vegetation and topographic depressions: An evaluation using dust storm frequency data.  Geophysical Research Letters 30: 10.1029/2002GL016471.

Garrett, M.H., Rayment, P.R., Hooper, M.A., Abramson, M.J. and Hooper, B.M.  1998.  Indoor airborne fungal spores, house dampness and associations with environmental factors and respiratory health in children.  Clinical and Experimental Allergy 28: 459-467.

Horner, W.E., Helbling, A. and Lehrer, S.B.  1993a.  Basidiomycete allergens: comparison of three Ganoderma species.  Allergy 48: 110-116.

Horner, W.E., Levetin, E. and Lehrer, S.B.  1993b.  Basidiospore allergen release: elution from intact spores.  Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 92: 306-312.

Horner, W.E., Helbling, A., Salvaggio, J.E. and Lehrer, S.B.  1995.  Fungal allergens.  Clinical Microbiology Reviews 8: 161-179.

Lehrer, S.B. et al.  1994.  Prevalence of basidiomycete allergy in the USA and Europe and its relationship to allergic respiratory symptoms.  Allergy 49: 460-465.

Mariani, C.L. et al.  2002.  Cerebral phaeohyphomycosis caused by Cladosporium spp. in two domestic shorthair cats.  Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 38: 225-230.

O'Neil, C.E., Hughes, J.M., Butcher, B.T., Savaggio, J.E. and Lehrer, S.B.  1988.  Basidiospore extracts: evidence for common antigenic/allergenic determinants.  International Archives of Allergy and Applied Immunology 85: 161-166.

Weber, R.W.  2002.  Species of CladosporiumAnnals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology 89: A-6.

Reviewed 10 November 2004