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An unprecedented number of diseases caused by fungi have been causing some of the most severe die-offs and extinctions ever witnessed in wild species and jeopardizing crops to boot, scientists now report.
Fungi are wiping out amphibians on several continents, decimating bats in eastern North America, contributing to the disappearance of bees dubbed colony collapse disorder, and killing corals and sea turtles.
They offer a number of reasons why. When infecting a large, vulnerable population, fungi can spread so quickly that they wipe out the population before the victims become too sparse to limit transmission.
Fungi can also infect a broad spectrum of hosts, although with different degrees of severity. This can lead some, less vulnerable species to become "super spreaders," carrying a disease that can spread to others, according to the team.
Fungi's genetic flexibility can help them evolve virulence quickly. Fungi can rapidly acquiring the genetic changes necessary to lead to the creation of new pathogens, and pathogenic lines can clone themselves. Humans help this process along by bringing together fungi that can still exchange genes but were once isolated from one another, the researchers write in the April 12 issue of the journal Nature.
And finally, fungi can also live independently, outside of their hosts. ... "Some environmental-acquired fungi kill their hosts but do not need them and consequently can drive a species to extinction,"