• Tue. Feb 27th, 2024
The carbon stored by fungi in the soil is essential to reach net-zero

It is estimated that 13.12 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) are transferred annually from plants to fungi, and the findings turn the soil beneath our feet into a huge carbon pool and the world’s most effective carbon capture storage unit. Current Biology said.

A new study finds soil fungi globally store 13 gigatons of carbon, about 36 percent of global fossil fuel emissions annually, a finding that could prove critical to reaching net-zero goals.

The study is a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies examining plant-soil processes to understand how much carbon is stored globally by fungi, conducted by an international team of scientists from the University of Sheffield in the UK.

Mycorrhizal fungi have supported life on land for at least 450 million years and form vast underground networks all around us – on every continent on Earth, even beneath roads, gardens and homes.

Although it is widely believed that carbon can be stored through symbiosis with land plants and transport of carbon into the soil as sugars and fats, the actual amount of carbon stored by mycorrhizal fungi is still unknown, the study said.

It is estimated that 13.12 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) are transferred annually from plants to fungi, and the findings turn the soil beneath our feet into a huge carbon pool and the world’s most effective carbon capture storage unit. Current Biology said.

The study equated the amount of carbon stored to about 36 percent of global fossil fuel emissions annually — more than China emits each year.

Given the critical role of fungi in reducing carbon emissions, researchers are now calling for their consideration in biodiversity and conservation policies.

“Mycorrhizal fungi represent a blind spot in carbon modelling, conservation and restoration – the numbers we’ve found are staggering, and as we think about solutions to climate change, we must also think about what we can do to take advantage of what’s already there. More needs to be done to protect these underground networks – we know they’re vital to biodiversity, and that they’re critical to the health of our planet.” We now have more evidence,” said plant-soil professor Katie Field. Proceedings at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the study.

Researchers are now investigating the extent to which fungi store carbon in soil, and are trying to further explore the role fungi play in Earth’s ecosystems.

“We always suspected that we were overlooking an important carbon pool.”

“A major gap in our knowledge is the permanence of carbon within mycorrhizal structures. We know that this is a flux, and some is retained in mycorrhizal structures while the fungus is alive and after it dies.”

“Some of the carbon will break down into smaller molecules and from there bind to soil particles, or be reused by plants. Of course, other microbes or fungi will lose some of the carbon as carbon dioxide gas during respiration.” said Heidi Hawkins, lead author of the study from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

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