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Mushrooms can help us fight climate change

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According to the latest research, mushrooms growing underground are able to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Researchers have estimated that they could remove about 36 percent of the amount of this gas released by burning fossil fuels each year. This means that underground mushrooms have the potential to help us fight climate change.

Plants transfer about a third of the carbon dioxide generated annually by burning fossil fuels to their cooperating subterranean fungi. However, these ecosystems are under threat.

Mycorrhiza is a common cooperation between the roots or seeds of most plants and fungi, which involves the exchange of various nutrients – fungi provide minerals and plants provide organic compounds. As explained by scientists from the University of Cape Town, the mushrooms that make it have been supporting life on land for at least 450 million years.

In recent years, it has turned out that these organisms play an important role in transporting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the soil.

Even 36 percent

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According to a meta-analysis of research published in the scientific journal Current Biology, mycorrhiza absorbs up to 13 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is about 36 percent of the amount produced when burning fossil fuels.

The authors emphasize that as much as 70-90% of plants enter into symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi.

‘We’ve always suspected that we might be missing an important carbon dioxide reservoir,’ said Dr Heidi Hawkins, lead author of the study. ‘Understandably, there has been a strong focus on protecting and restoring forests as a natural method of mitigating climate change. However, little attention has been paid to the carbon dioxide captured by these plants from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and transferred underground to mycorrhizal fungi, the expert said.

What remains to be clarified is what happens to the carbon dioxide transferred to the soil. – A big gap in our knowledge concerns the durability of carbon bound in mycorrhizal structures. We know about the flow taking place and that part of the carbon dioxide remains in the structures of mycorrhiza during the life of the fungus and even after its death. Some of these carbon-based substances will break down into smaller molecules and combine with other molecules in the soil or be reused by plants. Certainly, some carbon will also be lost to the atmosphere due to the respiratory processes of fungi and various microorganisms” – says Dr. Hawkins.

– We know that mycorrhizal fungi are crucial for creating ecosystems, although they are invisible. They underlie the food chains that support most life on Earth, but we are only just beginning to understand how they work. We still have a lot to learn,’ stressed one of the authors, Prof. Toby Kiers.

Representatives of the filamentous family are an example of mycorrhizal fungiShutterstock

We have little time

Unfortunately, it’s a race against time. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), by 2050, 90% of soil surface can be degraded, and fungi are often overlooked in various protection strategies. This threatens both the growth of natural vegetation and crops.

‘Mycorrhizal fungi represent a blind spot in modeling the carbon cycle and protecting and restoring nature,’ noted Prof. Katie Field, co-author of the paper. – Soil ecosystems are being destroyed at an alarming rate due to agriculture and industry, but the wider effects of soil destruction are poorly understood. When we disrupt the natural soil system, we sabotage our efforts to limit global warming and compromise the resilience of the ecosystems we depend on.”

In addition to increased protection, scientists recommend conducting much more extensive research.

Climate change and its consequences in the world PAP/Adam Ziemienowicz, Maciej Zieliński

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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