Here’s a recent story about how fungi, of all things, may be affecting global warming.
From ScienceDaily: “Microscopic fungi that live in plants’ roots play a major role in the storage and release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere, according to a University of Texas at Austin researcher and his colleagues at Boston University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The role of these fungi is currently unaccounted for in global climate models. Some types of symbiotic fungi can lead to 70 percent more carbon stored in the soil.
” ‘Natural fluxes of carbon between the land and atmosphere are enormous and play a crucial role in regulating the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, in turn, Earth’s climate,’ said Colin Averill, lead author on the study and graduate student in the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin. …
“Soil contains more carbon than both the atmosphere and vegetation combined, so predictions about future climate depend on a solid understanding of how carbon cycles between the land and air.
“Plants remove carbon from the atmosphere during photosynthesis in the form of carbon dioxide. Eventually the plant dies, sheds leaves, or loses a branch or two, and that carbon is added to the soil. The carbon remains locked away in the soil until the remains of the plant decompose, when soil-dwelling microbes feast on the dead plant matter and other organic detritus. That releases carbon back into the air. …
“Where plants partner with [ecto- and ericoid mycorrhizal] (EEM) fungi, the soil contains 70 percent more carbon per unit of nitrogen than in locales where [other] fungi are the norm. The EEM fungi allow the plants to compete with the microbes for available nitrogen, thus
reducing the amount of decomposition and lowering the amount of carbon released back into the atmosphere.
Photo: Colin Averill
The fruiting body of a fungus associated with the roots of a Hemlock tree in Harvard Forest.