A powerful and underappreciated ally in the climate crisis? Fungi

(The Guardian, 30 Nov 2021) Mycorrhizal fungal networks are a major global carbon sink. When we destroy them, we sabotage our efforts to limit global heating.

If we want to tackle the climate crisis, we need to address a global blindspot: the vast underground fungal networks that sequester carbon and sustain much of life on Earth.

Fungi are largely invisible ecosystem engineers. Most live as branching, fusing networks of tubular cells known as mycelium. Globally, the total length of fungal mycelium in the top 10cm of soil is more than 450 quadrillion km: about half the width of our galaxy. These symbiotic networks comprise an ancient life-support system that easily qualifies as one of the wonders of the living world.

Through fungal activity, carbon floods into the soil, where it supports intricate food webs – about 25% of all of the planet’s species live underground. Much of it remains in the soil, making underground ecosystems the stable store of 75% of all terrestrial carbon. But climate change strategies, conservation agendas and restoration efforts overlook fungi and focus overwhelmingly on aboveground ecosystems. This is a problem: the destruction of underground fungal networks accelerates both climate change and biodiversity loss and interrupts vital global nutrient cycles. These networks should be regarded as a global public good to be mapped, protected and restored as a matter of urgency.

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The Guardian, 30 Nov 2021: A powerful and underappreciated ally in the climate crisis? Fungi