The Wood Wide Web

by David Feather

I enjoy mushrooms, particularly as part of a full English breakfast. What I have never, till now, known, is that they and their other fungi relatives could save the planet.

I have known that we only see about 1% of the organism above ground, whilst the other 99% (called the mycelium) happily grow below. Importantly, this underground activity is highly beneficial for the future of the planet.

Two species of fungi photographed in the park: [1] amethyst deceiver fungus by Simon Knight, [2] Shaggy parasol fungus by Suzanne Humphries

A British financier is funding a worldwide study of mycelia to determine just how important they are in mitigating climate change. It is believed that billions of tons of carbon dioxide flow annually from plants into fungal networks, but these carbon sinks are poorly understood.

About 75% of the carbon stored on land is found in the soil, three times more than is present in plants and animals. Fungal networks account for about 50% of the living biomass of soils. They live with plants in intimate relationships and supply them with nutrients and defend them from disease.

Fungal mycelia

The study will involve taking around 10,000 soil samples from around the world. A DNA analysis will be carried out on them and the results will give a better understanding of the importance of fungal networks – sometimes called the “Wood wide web”- so efforts can be made to protect the soil on which our life depends. So next time you see a toadstool growing in the Country Park, say a silent thanks to it for helping us.

The more we learn, the more incredible Nature is seen to be. By supporting the Park and achieving Nature Reserve status, we are giving it a little bit of help and now I shall enjoy my mushrooms even more.

Based on a Times report of 1 December 2021

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