Fungi are major pathogens of plants, other fungi, rotifers, insects, and amphibians, but relatively few cause disease in mammals. Fungi became important human pathogens only in the late 20th century, primarily in hosts with impaired immunity as a consequence of medical interventions or HIV infection. The relatively high resistance of mammals has been attributed to a combination of a complex immune system and endothermy. Mammals maintain high body temperatures relative to environmental temperatures, creating a thermally restrictive ambient for the majority of fungi. According to this view, protection given by endothermy requires a temperature gradient between those of mammals and the environment. We hypothesize that global warming will increase the prevalence of fungal diseases in mammals by two mechanisms: (i) increasing the geographic range of currently pathogenic species and (ii) selecting for adaptive thermotolerance for species with significant pathogenic potential but currently not pathogenic by virtue of being restricted by mammalian temperatures.
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