Researchers diving in previously-unexplored waters up to 500 feet deep off Maui have discovered hundreds of potential new species of fungi.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa botany team was also surprised to discover that 27 percent of the species in the deep water environments are found in Hawaii rainforests.
“To find the same species of fungi on forest plants illustrates the remarkable ability of some fungi to tolerate, and thrive, in extremely different habitats,” said Anthony Amend, professor and senior author of a newly-released study on the findings.
“This ecological breadth is something that seemingly sets fungi apart from other organisms.”
The team was working at depths between 130 and 500 feet, and found the fungi on deep water coral systems.
The deep water, low light reefs, known as mesophotic coral ecosystems, hold striking amounts of biodiversity.
The researchers said they do not yet know the potential benefits of the deep sea fungi found off Maui. But many other strains of fungi provide key ingredients in chemotherapy drugs and natural waste treatments for oil spills.
“We know other undiscovered species are present in these ecosystems,” said Benjamin Wainwright, lead author of the study. “Unfortunately, if we do not look now we may miss our opportunity to benefit from them and conserve them.”