Wood Wide Web

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Illustration by Léa Zhang
Sources by BBC - Sciencemag

Research has shown that beneath every forest and wood there is a complex underground web of roots, fungi and bacteria helping to connect trees and plants to one another.

This subterranean social network, nearly 500 million years old, has become known as the "wood wide web".Now, an international study has produced the first global map of the "mycorrhizal fungi networks" dominating this secretive world.

Before scientists could map the forest’s underground ecosystem, they needed to know something more basic: where trees live. Ecologist Thomas Crowther, now at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, gathered vast amounts of data on this starting in 2012, from government agencies and individual scientists who had identified trees and measured their sizes around the world. In 2015, he mapped trees’ global distribution and reported that Earth has about 3 trillion trees.

"What we find is that certain types of microorganisms live in certain parts of the world, and by understanding that we can figure out how to restore different types of ecosystems and also how the climate is changing."Losing chunks of the wood wide web could well increase "the feedback loop of warming temperatures and carbon emissions".

Illustration by   Léa Zhang

Illustration by Léa Zhang

Mycorrhizal fungi are those that form a symbiotic relationship with plants. There are two main groups of mycorrhizal fungi: arbuscular fungi (AM) that penetrate the hosts's roots, and ectomycorrhizal fungi (EM) which surround the tree's roots without penetrating them.

Beneath every forest and wood there is a complex underground web of roots, fungi and bacteria helping to connect trees and plants to one another.

Through our daily activities we are very much counting on the carbon in the soil to stay there, and not only that, but to continue accumulating. If we create conditions through changing the type of fungi that are interacting with plants in the soil in which then those soils begin to stop accumulating carbon, or they start releasing it, then the rate at which we are seeing change will start accelerating even more.

EnvironmentNiccolo Gorfer