Friendly fungi help forests fight climate change




  • In Science
  • 2022-06-18 23:47:25Z
  • By BBC

This award-winning essay from young British science writer Zara Hussan explores the hidden, underground networks of fungi that are silently helping plants and trees to lock away carbon and combat climate change. Winner of the 2022 Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) Young Science Writer of the Year award, her essay explores a microscopic realm: Earth's fungal "life support system".

Indonesian rainforest: Trees naturally take up carbon dioxide
Indonesian rainforest: Trees naturally take up carbon dioxide  

A forest is home to billions of living things, some of them too small to be seen by the naked eye. Collectively, these micro-scale species contribute more to our planet than most of us could imagine.

While we know that forests play a major role in countering global warming - acting as reservoirs for carbon - what is less well understood is how tiny organisms that dwell hidden in the soil help lock away our greenhouse gas emissions.

The trees in our forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they photosynthesise; their leaves, powered by sunlight, convert that carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar. As a tree grows, the carbon becomes part of its woody "biomass".

  • Ten fascinating facts about fungi

  • New global effort to map 'Wood Wide Web'

This is how trees naturally combat the planet-warming greenhouse effect. In the last 20 years, the Amazon rainforest alone is estimated to have taken in 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Trees though do not act in isolation; they are entangled with - and working alongside - a vast community of micro-scale fungi.

A 2016 study led by researchers from Imperial College London revealed that one particular type - ectomycorrhizal fungi - enables certain trees to absorb CO2 faster (and therefore grow faster) than others. This is known as the "CO2 fertilisation effect".

Illustration showing cross section of helpful fungi living on tree roots
Illustration showing cross section of helpful fungi living on tree roots  

These fungi live in the root system of a host tree. In a symbiotic relationship, fungi help the tree to absorb more water, carbon and other nutrients. In exchange, the tree provides food for the fungi by photosynthesising.

Ectomycorrhizal fungi have also been found to slow down the process of rotting; decomposition breaks down all that locked-away carbon and releases it into the atmosphere. So the fungi, in effect, have two methods of fighting global warming.

Insights into the critical, growth-boosting role of fungi have already been applied to agriculture. Seeding the soil with "friendly fungus" is considered a promising technology for future sustainable farming.

Research conducted into planting one particular variety - Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, or AMF - in soil has shown how it can not only help enrich soil fertility, but also reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Fungal network on dead wood
Fungal network on dead wood  

Using these fungi can also provide a more sustainable alternative to chemical fertilisers, which can run into and pollute nearby water sources.

The benefits of so-called "biofertilisers", like AMF, have resulted in the global biofertiliser market reaching a value of more than $2bn.

Switching from chemical to biological fertilisers does comes at a financial cost. Biological fertilisers are also often crop-specific and they generally do not boost crop yield as much and as quickly as chemical fertilisers do. They are understood to be so much more beneficial for the soil and for the environment though that, in the UK, the government has developed a scheme called the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). It aims to provide financial assistance to farmers who opt for more sustainable, nature-enhancing practices.

Moving away from chemical fertilisers on farmland could give those helpful fungi a boost in our forests, too.

illustration showing application of biofertiliser to a plant
illustration showing application of biofertiliser to a plant  

Scientists say that naturally-occurring forest fungi are being put at risk by some chemicals. Dr Colin Averill, a senior scientist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, says chemical fertilisers - that are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium - actually break down the symbiosis between fungi and plant roots.

Research has also shown a link between the loss of soil fungi and a reduction in carbon content of forest soil. Meanwhile, deforestation, which annihilates the fungi along with their host trees, disrupts this whole underground, climate change-fighting ecosystem.

The system can be repaired, though. Dr Averill says that, by transplanting soil from rich, biodiverse "donor" sites to sites where soil is depleted, it is possible to restore fungal networks.

He argues that taking these steps is necessary to help protect microbial communities.

More recently, a project led by the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (Spun) has set out to map these microscopic fungal networks and to understand their essential role in protecting our soils. The project is the start of what scientists have called an "underground climate movement", aiming to protect this ancient life support system and to help it to help us fight climate change.

These fungi might be tiny and hidden beneath the ground, but they form a network that is protecting our planet. Scientists who study them say we can do more - particularly through sustainable farming methods - to protect them.

portrait of Zara
portrait of Zara  

Young Science Writer of the year 2022, Zara Hussan, 14, is from Plashet School, East Ham, London. The ABSW Young Science Writer of the Year award invites students aged 14-16 years, to submit an 800-word essay. The competition, supported by BBC News, is designed to get young people writing and thinking about the big questions in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics.

COMMENTS

More Related News

What
What's causing the recent U.S. heat waves?
  • US
  • 2022-08-17 16:37:26Z

Much of the western United States will be gripped by a heat wave this week, with temperatures in some parts of California soaring above 110 Fahrenheit (43...

U.S. court vacates decision to block federal oil, gas leasing pause
U.S. court vacates decision to block federal oil, gas leasing pause
  • US
  • 2022-08-17 14:05:49Z

A U.S. circuit judge on Wednesday vacated a lower court's decision to block the Biden administration's pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal land and...

China and US spar over climate on Twitter
China and US spar over climate on Twitter
  • US
  • 2022-08-17 09:39:32Z

The world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are sparring on Twitter over climate policy, with China questioning whether the U.S. can deliver on the ...

Climate change:
Climate change: 'Staggering' rate of global tree losses from fires

A report says around 16 football pitches of trees per minute were lost to wildfires in 2021.

Biden signs tax, health and climate bill into law
Biden signs tax, health and climate bill into law

The president hails the $700bn (£579bn) act as the "final piece" of his long-stalled domestic agenda.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

  • dark web links
    (2022-06-19 12:05:24Z)

    For example, if you are shopping on the Internet you will not need to worry about the dark web when you are shopping because you can go into your online catalog or search engine and use these tools to find exactly what you are looking for

    REPLY
  • deep web
    (2022-06-19 12:25:45Z)

    You will be able to get information on the products that are available, their prices, and any special offers that may be available.

    A third way that you can get on the dark web is by connecting through wireless networks

    REPLY
  • dark web links
    (2022-06-19 12:34:06Z)

    There are a number of different networks that can allow you to connect and get to websites that are on the dark web. This is a great way to get to sites that may not be available otherwise.

    REPLY
  • dark web sites
    (2022-06-19 14:47:18Z)

    In fact, you may want to do this if you want to get to places that are not on the typical networks that are on the Internet. You will have to set up the network and then you can visit the websites that you want and not worry about others visiting the site and getting onto your network.

    REPLY
  • dark web
    (2022-06-19 14:57:22Z)

    A fourth way that you can get on the dark web is through programs like Skype. With this program you can actually make calls over the Internet. You will have to be able to configure this program a little bit to get it to work properly but you can actually make some calls for free! v

    REPLY
  • work from home jobs
    (2022-06-19 15:05:36Z)

    This is really a simple process that is fairly easy to use. You don't have to be any sort of expert in order to do it.

    REPLY
  • affiliate marketing success
    (2022-06-19 15:16:11Z)

    Another strategy that you can use for affiliate marketing success on Reddit is building relationships. The reason that you want to do this is because people tend to buy more from those that they know than from someone that they have never met before.

    REPLY
  • dark web links
    (2022-06-22 03:50:10Z)

    Some directories let you perform anonymous searches. This means that you can look up any web site, including those that are not publicly accessible like social networking sites. For example, you could search for "music blogs" in order to learn more about websites where you can listen to music. Sites that are restricted to members only can also be searched

    REPLY
  • deep web
    (2022-06-22 04:12:00Z)

    The search engines on the web are similar to directories. Just like directory websites, they allow users to access information about web sites that are hidden from public view. You can enter keywords to narrow down your search. This is the best way of how to access the dark web through iPhone because you get better results this way

    REPLY
  • dark web links
    (2022-06-22 04:26:15Z)

    If you want to learn how to access the dark web through iPhone, you should use a proxy server. A proxy server is a server that hides your identity and location so that your internet activities are protected. They act as a shield and mask your web browsing activities from search engines, hackers, and even web administrators. The IP address that they assign to you remains anonymous

    REPLY
  • fb解封
    (2022-06-29 12:52:08Z)

    事实上,facebook账户被屏蔽是正常的。特别是在美国大选的初期,该组织发布了许多信息,都在抱怨账户被屏蔽。如果您的个人数据是真实的,并且没有严重违反社区规定,那么解封并不困难

    REPLY
  • office space design
    (2022-07-04 11:48:18Z)

    汇德绘于2014年成立于深圳,擅长办公室设计装修、工装设计,由来自上海、深圳、台北等各地的设计菁英联合组成,凭藉著多年从事外企办公室、酒店、商业空间、别墅、私宅的设计经验,自创立之初即致力于为客户创造富含文化、艺术、实用机能与个性的理想空间。我们所关注的不仅止于空间美感的塑造,更勇于运用新材料与新技术来追求突破,在环保的基础上将美学、机能与创新融合于一体。

    REPLY
  • Security Cameras
    (2022-07-04 11:51:33Z)

    There are no universal rules for security camera placement, as your property layout, budget, and home security priorities are different from those of your neighbors. However, this guide will help you explore all aspects of your home security settings and determine what you need based on your home's vulnerabilities. Not all homes are the same, but everyone's property deserves protection. Security cameras are an excellent tool for peace of mind as they allow you to monitor your property.

    REPLY
  • personalized gifts
    (2022-07-05 13:20:54Z)

    99diy is a Personalized print-on-demand & Dropshipping supplier. We help entrepreneurs, artists, small business owners, and influencers sell personalized products more easily by printing and drop-shipping them straight to their customers. Customize anything: Jewelry, Necklaces, Charms, Bracelets, Rings, Earrings, Contact Lens, t-shirts, shoes, leggings, bags, mugs, pet supplies, home decor, wall art, accessories, and personalized gifts.You sell it, we handle the rest.

    REPLY
  • Portable Air Conditione
    (2022-07-06 01:13:15Z)

    Headquartered in Southern California, Ukoke is a complete automation system with intuitive control suitable for residential homes, commercial premises, and other purposes. We leverage our expert knowledge, unique talent and advanced technology to design and develop state-of-the-art home appliances that help people do their daily routine tasks more efficiently and easily. All our products are developed keeping simplicity, technology, and convenience in mind.

    REPLY
  • Portable Air Conditioner
    (2022-08-06 08:26:59Z)

    Portable air conditioners are a lot less economical than comparable window units and price roughly twice as much. Anything you're purchasing is the flexibility to roll it from one particular home to another or into a closet for simple storage.

    REPLY
  • Portable Air Conditioner
    (2022-08-06 12:11:27Z)

    Portable air conditioners are a lot less economical than comparable window units and price roughly twice as much. Anything you're purchasing is the flexibility to roll it from one particular home to another or into a closet for simple storage.

    REPLY

Top News: Science