OCT 26, 2020 6:53 AM PDT

A Network of Fungi Helps Trees Grow

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Trees rely on a network of fungal friends for good health. Mycorrhizal (from the Greek “myco” fungus, and “rhizae” root) fungi occur naturally, and help trees in many ways. The fungi help the trees resist disease, prevent erosion, and absorb nutrients, for example. Scientists at the University of Alberta have now shown that adult tree growth is also connected to fungi that live in forest soil. The work has been reported in the Journal of Ecology.

Douglas firs in British Columbia / Credit: Carmen Leitch

"Large trees make up the bulk of the forest, so they drive what the forest is doing," said study author Joseph Birch, Ph.D., who led the study for his graduate thesis in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

Fungi that colonize tree roots become like a kind of highway that water, nutrients, and other molecules including those that help trees defend against insect attacks, can use to flow among trees. Trees that are low in resources can therefore get some help from neighbors that have nutrients or other essentials to spare. This network makes trees "like family units that support one another in times of stress," Birch noted.

In this study, the researchers sampled the cores of 350 Douglas firs in British Columbia. These cores indicated that the annual growth of tree rings was related to the extent of their fungal connections with other trees. It seemed that greater tree growth was correlated with trees that were linked with more fungi and fungi that were more unique.

"We found that the more connected an adult tree is, the more it has significant growth advantages, which means the network could really influence large-scale important interactions in the forest, like carbon storage. If you have this network that is helping trees grow faster, that helps sequester more carbon year after year," explained Birch.

It may also be possible for trees that are growing faster to be more adaptable to droughts that are expected to intensify as the climate changes, he added.

"These networks may help them grow more steadily even as conditions become more stressful, and could even help buffer trees against death. It's a very dynamic system that is probably being broken apart and re-formed quite a bit, like family relationships, so we don't know how they will change under future climates either. Maybe a dry year or a beetle outbreak impacts the network," he continued.

"Knowing whether fungal networks are operating the same way in other tree species could factor into how we reforest areas after harvesting them, and it could inform how we want to plant trees to preserve these networks."

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Alberta, Journal of Ecology

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
NOV 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How SARS-CoV-2 Evades Antiviral Defenses
NOV 01, 2021
How SARS-CoV-2 Evades Antiviral Defenses
Researchers have learned a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 virus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that he viru ...
NOV 08, 2021
Coronavirus
Pfizer Claims Their New COVID-19 Pill Reduces Hospitalization Risk by 89%
NOV 08, 2021
Pfizer Claims Their New COVID-19 Pill Reduces Hospitalization Risk by 89%
Current treatments for COVID-19 have to be administered intravenously, so a pill that could treat patients would be huge ...
NOV 14, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Delivery System That Enables Gut Microbes to Communicate with the Body
NOV 14, 2021
A Delivery System That Enables Gut Microbes to Communicate with the Body
There are trillions of microbes that live in out gastrointestinal tract, and each one of those single-celled organisms h ...
NOV 22, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Lungfish is a Living Antimicrobial Sponge
NOV 22, 2021
The Lungfish is a Living Antimicrobial Sponge
African lungfish are incredible animals that survive in freshwater or on land. Research on lungfish has taught us more a ...
DEC 02, 2021
Microbiology
Antibodies Seem to Keep Gut Fungi in Check, Except in Crohn's Patients
DEC 02, 2021
Antibodies Seem to Keep Gut Fungi in Check, Except in Crohn's Patients
The bacteria that live in the gut microbiome have gotten a lot of attention, and for good reason; gut bacteria have been ...
DEC 28, 2021
Immunology
Blood-Sucking Worms No Match Against Vaccine Pill
DEC 28, 2021
Blood-Sucking Worms No Match Against Vaccine Pill
Ancylostoma caninum, a type of hookworm, attached to the intestinal mucosa. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Hookworms are b ...
Loading Comments...