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Fungi may determine the future of soil carbon
Date:1/8/2014

When scientists discuss global change, they often focus on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and vegetation. But soil contains more carbon than air and plants combined. This means that even a minor change in soil carbon could have major implications for the Earth's atmosphere and climate. New research by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientist Benjamin Turner and colleagues points to an unexpected driver of soil carbon content: fungi.

"This finding puts soil biology at the front and center of the debate about the factors that drive soil carbon storage," said Turner, who collaborated with researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Boston University.

Previous studies considered soil degradation, climate and plant productivity to be the most important regulators of soil carbon content. However, findings published this week in Nature by researchers including Turner suggest that soil biology plays a greater role. Some types of symbiotic fungi can lead to 70 percent more carbon in the soil. The role of these fungi is currently not considered in global climate models.

The majority of plants team up with fungi, exchanging plant carbon for soil nutrients supplied by the fungus. These mutually beneficial relationships can be broadly grouped into three major categories: arbuscular mycorrhizas AM, ectomycorrhizas, and ericoid mycorrhizas. The AM symbiosis is most common, occurring in approximately 85 percent of plant families, while ecto- and ericoid mycorrhizas EEM occur in a few common families.

After an exhaustive number of model runs on data from more than 200 soil profiles from around the globe, the authors found that soils supporting EEM plant communities contained 70 percent more carbon per unit nitrogen than soils supporting AM-dominated plant communities. The effect is significant at the global scale, because it is independent of biomass accumulation, temperature, precipitation and soil clay con
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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
202-633-4700 x28216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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