Symbiotic Fungi Have New Found Impact on Atmospheric Carbon Levels

by Tom Edathikunnel



Among the intricacies of the food chain, decomposers are often overlooked and ignored. These organisms, specifically those of the fungi kingdom, are critical to the recycling and redistribution of nutrients throughout an ecosystem. New research has added a deeper and more apparent level of importance to these eukaryotic organisms, linking many microscopic root dwelling fungi to the storage and release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere.

According to a new research published by the University of Texas at Austin, the role of fungi on the global climate is currently vastly unaccounted for. Some types of symbiotic fungi, those that operate in cooperation with an ecosystems flora, can lead up to 70 percent more carbon stored in the soil.

“Natural fluxes of carbon between the land and atmosphere are enormous and play a crucial role in regulating the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, in turn, the Earth’s climate”, states Colin Averil, lead author on the study at the College of Natural Science at UT Austin.

Nitrogen Cycle

The data regarding the role of fungi demands a refocused look on how atmospheric greenhouse gases exert changes in soil and ecosystems. Soil contains more carbon than both the atmosphere and vegetation combined, which means that studying future climates depends on the in-depth understanding of how carbon cycles through land and air.

Plants utilize carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, during photosynthesis. When the plan dies it adds additional carbon to the soil.  As fungi and other eukaryotes decompose it, its carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Fungi also play a pivotal role in the recycling of nitrogen. Most plants have a symbiotic relationship with root dwelling fungi, which help extract nitrogen and nutrients from the soil and make that nitrogen available in the soil for plants to absorb.

The new importance of fungi in the natural order of ecosystems highlights the vastly complex flow of energy throughout an environment. With so many variables and factors filtering and distributing resources, it becomes more apparent that humanity still remains vastly ignorant of how specific parts and species contribute to the whole.