The fungus among us

A new study suggests that fungi contribute to soil carbon far more than previously thought.

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

More than a third of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels go through underground networks of fungi, according to a new peer-reviewed study in Current Biology. That’s a whopping 13 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year. 

Mycorrhizal fungi act as a symbiotic partner of plants, seeking out nutrients and bringing them back to the plant’s roots. In return, they accept carbon in the form of carbohydrates, which they then lock away in the structure of the fungi. This symbiotic relationship is nothing new to scientists; what’s surprising is the magnitude of carbon stored.

But how permanent is this storage? And what can we do to support fungi as a nature-based climate solution?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Heidi-Jayne Hawkins, lead author of the new paper and research director at Conservation South Africa. 

They cover topics including:

  • The evolutionary history of mycorrhizal fungi.

  • The mechanics of fungal carbon storage, which boosts carbon storage by 5% to 20% more than plants alone.

  • What we can do to support conditions for fungi to absorb carbon.

  • Open questions about the permanence of the storage.

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Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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