Scientists have just uncovered an amazing subterranean carbon gardening dioxide exchange that goes on between trees and fungi. Its a network of sorts, a so-called wood wide web that suggests forests are more cooperative ecosystems than previously understood, and not quite so much about competition.
Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia was the first to see this in 1997 among seedlings shed planted. The recent research, though, is the first time its been seen in nature and on such a large scale.
The underground networking was noticed by the Swiss Canopy Crane Project led by Christian Krnerof the Institute of Botany at the University of Basel. For four years, theyd been inundating the canopy of five tall spruces in a Swiss forest with a distinctive form of carbon dioxide whose carbon product they could differentiate from the naturally DIY Safety occurring kind. (Theirs was depleted of carbon-13.) The team was interested to see how trees might handle excessive amounts of atmospheric CO2.
Trees use photosynthesis to convert CO2 and water into carbon-based sugarsthis allows a trees leaves, trunk, and roots to creative outdoor designs absorb the carbon from the CO2. In 2012, the team examined the trees roots to see if the carbon had filtered down to them. It seemed like it had. But what surprised the researchers was finding their carbon in surrounding trees, too. They werent even all spruces: Nearby pine, beech, and larch trees had it in their roots as well.
The researchers made sure they hadnt mistaken one trees roots for anothers and that none of the roots were touching each other. They checked the neighbors leaves. Nope, the carbon was only in their roots, so the transfer had to be happening underground. Since they didnt find their carbon in other adjacent plants, they knew this couldnt be a simple release of it from the test trees roots down into the soil.
Where they did find lots of their carbon was in the fungi growing on the roots of the affected trees: Mycorrhizal fungi, which provide tree roots with nitrogen and phosphorus and receive carbon they consume themselves. Whats surprising is that it seems outdoor ideas Mycorrhiza, which can colonize several hosts at the same time, weren’t eating all of the carbon: They were apparently delivering carbon from one tree to another.
Were not talking about a little bit of carbon, either. The scientists estimate that in an area roughly the size of a rugby pitch68m wide and 100m longthe trees, via Mycorrhiza, are swapping approximately 280 kilograms of carbon a year. That accounts for nearly half the carbon in the trees fine roots.
This unconscious cooperation between the trees and fungi raises some tantalizing questions DIY that scientists are now trying to answer. Do trees swap carbon back and forth? Does it matter what kind of tree photosynthesizes the carbon? Most intriguingly, could this hidden network mean that healthier trees may be able to carry on photosynthesis for weaker trees at times ofenvironmental stress? Wow.