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Underground fungi mapped for first time

December 1, 2021

Vast networks of underground fungi – the “circulatory system of the planet” – are to be mapped for the first time, in an attempt to protect them from damage and improve their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide.

Fungi use carbon to build networks in the soil, which connect to plant roots and act as nutrient “highways”, exchanging carbon from plant roots for nutrients. For instance, some fungi are known to supply 80% of phosphorus to their host plants.

Underground fungal networks can extend for many miles but are rarely noticed, though trillions of miles of them are thought to exist around the world. These fungi are vital to the biodiversity of soils and soil fertility, but little is known about them.

Many hotspots of mycorrhizal fungi are thought to be under threat, from the expansion of agriculture, urbanization, pollution, water scarcity and changes to the climate.

The new project, from the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN), will involve the collection of 10,000 samples around the world, from hotspots that are being identified through artificial intelligence technology.

Jane Goodall, the conservationist, who is advising the project, said: “An understanding of underground fungal networks is essential to our efforts to protect the soil, on which life depends, before it is too late.”

The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks comprises scientists from the Netherlands, Canada, the US, France, Germany and the University of Manchester in the UK.

The first collections will take place next year in Patagonia, and continue for about 18 months, to create maps of potential underground mycorrhizal fungi that can be used for further research. Using the maps, the scientists hope to pinpoint the ecosystems facing the most urgent threats, and partner with local conservation organizations to try to create “conservation corridors” for the underground ecosystems. Read more:

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