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Symbiotic fungi inhabiting plant roots have major impact on atmospheric carbon, scientists say
Date:1/8/2014

AUSTIN, Texas Microscopic fungi that live in plants' roots play a major role in the storage and release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere, according to a University of Texas at Austin researcher and his colleagues at Boston University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The role of these fungi is currently unaccounted for in global climate models.

Some types of symbiotic fungi can lead to 70 percent more carbon stored in the soil.

"Natural fluxes of carbon between the land and atmosphere are enormous and play a crucial role in regulating the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, in turn, Earth's climate," said Colin Averill, lead author on the study and graduate student in the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin. "This analysis clearly establishes that the different types of symbiotic fungi that colonize plant roots exert major control on the global carbon cycle, which has not been fully appreciated or demonstrated until now."

"This research is not only relevant to models and predictions of future concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, but also challenges the core foundation in modern biogeochemistry that climate exerts major control over soil carbon pools," added Adrien Finzi, co-investigator and professor of biology at Boston University.

Averill, Finzi and Benjamin Turner, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, published their research this week in Nature.

Soil contains more carbon than both the atmosphere and vegetation combined, so predictions about future climate depend on a solid understanding of how carbon cycles between the land and air.

Plants remove carbon from the atmosphere during photosynthesis in the form of carbon dioxide. Eventually the plant dies, sheds leaves, or loses a branch or two, and that carbon is added to the soil. The carbon remains locked away in the soil until the remains of the plant decompose
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Contact: Colin Averill
colin.averill@utexas.edu
203-444-8925
University of Texas at Austin
Source:Eurekalert  

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