Myconauts To Explore The Living Layer under our feet and Its Role In Mitigating Climate Change
Our satellites tell us about our little blue dot from above the precious thin layer of Earth’s atmosphere whilst the amazing JWST explores the almost inconceivably vast cosmic web whilst our world wide web transports data that enables our civilization. And yet we have carelessly ignored the vast underground fungal networks in the layer of soil below our feet.
Trees and other plants communicate beneath the earth using roots and fungi in what Professor Suzanne Simard called the wood wide web proving out in the field that plants had a social internet, this connection with fungi. It’s a symbiotic relationship with most plants in the world having fungi attached to their roots. They allow trees to communicate and reach much farther than their own roots.
The fungi collect information, water and nutrients to distribute across the network. For instance, you might get, in the winter, evergreen trees sending food to the deciduous trees that have lost their leaves and can’t make as much food.
Professor Suzanne Simard explained the WWW’s criticality in sustaining viable and diverse ecosystems and now the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN) is building on the work and sending out myconauts – people to explore, map and research underground mycorrhizal networks.
Estimates suggest that the length of all the Earth’s fungal filaments in these fungal (or mycorrhizal) networks would stretch halfway across the Milky Way! Their critical terrestrial role helps circulate nutrients under the soil to feed sun-loving plant life (as an aside we are now producing fungi-derived leather in a pseudo-velvet underground redux). This in turn feeds animals and us –even if we are not primary vegetarians, we are all secondary vegetarians!
"These plants are not really individuals...competing for survival of the fittest. They are trying to help each other survive." Professor Simard on trees in the forest
The old Darwinian dictum of survival of the fittest is being enriched with recognition that nature lives not in ruthless tooth and claw competition but also smart cooperation and community (and indeed Darwin himself wrote about interdependence in nature). The mycorrhizal networks even efficiently trade nutrients across networks, shifting scarce nutrients to where there are most valuable to the host plants within these networks. Once again humanity, having misunderstood nature for so long, can evolve with new information and lessons from myconauts to mitigate climate change before it is too late for us.
“What is dangerous is not to evolve” Jeff Bezos
These myconauts can leverage our satellite data to build more accurate, true maps of our fungal networks and the nutrients that flow through them to sustain the diverse ecosystems so necessary to a healthy planet. If only us humans could branch out like mycorrhizal networks in our own social networks to spread good rather than the spite, drivel and hype so common today.
As another aside it is also interesting to consider all the laws and regulations about water use compared with soil use given the life it contains and its critical role in powering the planets diverse ecosystems.
“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”
Edward Osborne Wilson, US myrmecologist, theorist, naturalist & author
Some Media and Book links
- Toby Kiers (Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Free University of Amsterdam, Executive Director & Chief Scientist at the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN)) talks to ABC’s Philip Adams on Late Night Live on A Fungi First Approach To Climate Change
- A light hearted but still informative BBC Infinite Monkey Cage episode with Professor Brian Cox and Robin William on the Wood Wide Web can be found here with Professor Suzanne Simard (author of "The Mother Tree") and botanist Mark Spencer to discover how trees and plants communicate and what they are saying.
Professor Simard’s video on ‘discovering’ the Mother Tree is here
- An early Wood Wide Web from the World Economic Forum is here
- Australians can participate the fight to save fungi, with this local initiative: https://www.digupdirt.net/
(Send details or links of your local initiative to: email@example.com)
- Learn more about how Professor Thomas Crowther and his team of scientists from the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and Stanford University used machine learning to map out this complex network of fungi and bacteria that links trees together at Oneearth.org here
- Dr Brett Summerell, Chief Botanist at the Institute of Botanical Science explains how fungi can help trees communicate with each other and how this symbiotic relationship works.
- Andy Murray’s beautiful Chaosofdelight.org website showcases the wonderful and wonder-inducing fauna living in the vast soil ecosystem has some great links to articles on the topic of these critters and the soil (‘our greatest treasure’) environment. Please support him if you are able and see Matthew Evans reference below.
SOME WORTHWHILE BOOKS INCLUDE:
A conversation with Martin Sheldrake can be heard here
if we want food to nourish us, while ensuring our planet's long-term health, we need to understand how soil works - how it's made, how it's lost, and how it can be repaired have a listen to the ABC’s Big Ideas with Paul Barclay here and Robyn Williams’ Science Show here
Watch Keith Siefert here
For the younger readers
Briony Barr & Gregory Crocetti
The authors introduce their readers to fungi, and the rarely seen worlds underground and within parts of plants by expertly combining scientifically accurate information with story and illustration to present the natural world in a way guaranteed to spark wonder and awe in their young readers.
Please send us any other related links you think we or others might be interested in to firstname.lastname@example.org