Northern boreal forests are easily recognized for their majestic trees and have been credited with helping to sequester much of the world’s carbon dioxide. It was originally thought that vegetative matter was what was sinking the greenhouse gas. Now, a diverse team of scientists from Sweden have discovered that these great, soaring plants are getting a lot of help from some humble decomposers living in the soil. Their findings, published in the journal Science, revealed that fungi were responsible for up to an incredible 70 percent of soil carbon in certain samples.
Researchers have long known that boreal forests were able to suck up a good deal of carbon, but were previously unclear as to where it went and how it was absorbed. They had thought that the carbon was carried to the tree’s needles and dropped to the forest floor where decomposition would leech it into the environment. If that were true, they would expect to find the newest carbon deposits close to the surface. However, after taking soil samples from over 30 islands and two small lakes in Sweden, they saw that the new deposits were more likely to be found farther down, pulled to the roots of the trees by fungus. The mycorrhizal fungus has evolved a special relationship with the trees where it colonizes in the roots and assists the tree. The fungus gets access to a more consistent stream of carbohydrates and other sugars, and the tree in return has access to more water and minerals.
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