Fungal Super Highway
Recent studies are shedding new light on what have long considered to be environmental baddies; bacteria, fungi and viruses.
One of the most interesting and most pervasive is the root fungus mycorrhiza, associating with 90% of plants, on settled soil, and providing an extensive subterranean highway; 1kg of soil contains approx 200 km of filament. Its various roles include –
Miner – A single filament has been shown to exert between 30 and 40 lbs per sq. in. in breaking down the rock structure in the soil in order to release minerals.
Transporter – While not fast by cyberspace standards movement of phosphorus across the network has been measured at ½ metre per hour.
Consolidator – root fungus produces a carbon rich substance known as glomulin* which is the glue that attaches itself to the root of the plant and also binds particles of soil together.
Controller – Recent monitoring of the movement of radioactive carbon isotopes in the network have shown that food and water are moved from trees that have an excess to those that haven’t enough.
Carer – Studies of groups of Douglas firs have shown that the network allows older trees to transfer nutrients to their saplings.
Communicator – Other more recent studies have shown that messages can be passed on to plants along the network warning of imminent attack from parasites enabling others to prepare chemical defences in their leaves
*Glomulin discovered in 1996 provides 30% of the total carbon in soils and can last for up to 40yrs.
The link between cattle grazing surface plants and mycorrhiza is another fascinating story,
Natural grazing in herds grouped tightly to protect against predators and moving on leads to a foreshortening of the grass and results below ground in a similar shortening of the roots, releasing carbon rich glomulin into the soil. As the grass re grows the roots extend with more CO2 taken from the air to manufacture more glomulin creating a carbon/nutrient pump. The long term result of this was the creation of the rich buffalo prairies of the American west and is now being used to reinstate thousands of acres of near desert into pasture in places such as Zimbabwe.