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An unexpected climate savior found underground: it's a 400-million-year-old organism

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Mycorrhizal fungi transport more carbon dioxide than all of China emits in a year

Mycorrhizal fungi - a huge organism that has been living underground in symbiosis with plant roots for 400 million years - probably play an extremely important role in the global carbon cycle. Scientists have discovered that fungi are responsible for the release or transportation of gigantic amounts of carbon dioxide from plants.

This is evidenced by a new study published in the journal Current Biology. Scientists had known about the exchange of nutrients and water between plants and mycorrhizal fungi before, but they had no idea what role they could play in cleaning up our planet.

Scientists have found that mycorrhizal fungi play a very active role in the global carbon cycle, through which the Earth recycles carbon between the atmosphere, ocean, soil, rocks, and living organisms.

The discovery, according to scientists, can help update our carbon models, which are a key tool in the era of the climate crisis.

The study analyzed nearly 200 datasets on mycorrhizal fungi from more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers. As a result, scientists were able to understand the quantitative impact of fungi on global soil carbon pools.

According to Katie Field, co-author of the study and professor of plant and soil processes at the University of Sheffield, mycorrhizal fungi are responsible for the release or transportation of 13 gigatons of carbon dioxide from plants. This, according to the scientist, is simply "a huge amount of carbon."

She explained that 13 gigatons are the equivalent of 36% of annual global emissions from fossil fuels, or more than the entire country of China emits in a year.

Thus, as Field explained to Inverse, we can say that fungi play a very important role in how plants get rid of carbon and without them, humanity would probably be in big trouble. Previously, the role of fungi has been ignored because studies have favored land plants.

"That's largely because these incredible organisms exist as underground filamentous networks that are largely invisible to the naked eye," Field said.

She also noted that this study means that such underground systems need to be protected from agriculture, construction, and other industries.

"When we disrupt ancient life-support systems in the soil, we sabotage our efforts to limit global warming and undermine the ecosystems we depend on. We need to do more to protect these underground networks. We already knew they were important for biodiversity, now we have even more evidence that they are crucial to the health of our planet," Field emphasized.

At the same time, the scientists warn that their study is somewhat incomplete as they did not study whether mycorrhizal fungi contribute to soil carbon storage and do not return it to the atmosphere. And it is the return process that has a key impact on global warming. This will be the focus of future research.

However, this study is still important because it allows scientists to better understand how much greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, we can emit before the planet warms even more.

"We now know that the distribution of carbon will depend on where certain species of plants and fungi occur in different ecosystems. This data will be useful for improving global carbon models," said study co-author and ecologist Michael Van Nuland.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL also reported that solar panels could cause an environmental disaster on Earth.

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