University of North Texas ecosystem geographers suggest several unexpected factors might have big implications for ecosystems.

Among those factors are radioactive rain, hitchhiking tardigrades and particulates in precipitation.

The team, led by Alexandra Ponette-Gonzále, recently published their work in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Their work suggests raindrops contain large and diverse communities of organisms; such as bacteria, fungi and even tardigrades; along with non-living particles like dust, soot and radioactive material.

Their work highlights the potentially big roles tiny particulates could play in ecosystems, with ripple effects through the environment and society from economic impacts on agricultural crop yields to environmental effects of pollutants.

Some key takeaways from the papers suggest particulates found in canopy waterways deliver life, like bacteria and fungi, that make up the bulk of the organisms involved in decomposition, releasing nutrients back into the soil and carbon to the atmosphere through respiration.

The study also suggests when particulates move through canopies, the effects are not always beneficial. Harmful organisms may use this water to disperse into and claim new territories.

Spores of Phytopthora ramorum, the pathogen that causes sudden oak death and has killed millions of oak trees in the western U.S., can disperse among forests with wind-blown rain.

Ponette-González and colleagues hope their study can raise awareness about this under-researched topic.

— Juan Betancourt


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