A one-of-a-kind nonprofit has set out on a mission to map the fungi that live underground.
The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN) said Tuesday that it had received the largest donation in its history to assist map and maintain these underground networks, which help to store carbon and transmit nutrients through the soil.
“This is an extremely important conservation project…An understanding of underground fungal networks is essential to our efforts to protect the soil, on which life depends, before it is too late,” stated Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace.
Along with Michael Pollan, Merlin Sheldrake, and Fungi Foundation founder Giuliana Furci, Goodall is one of a number of notable writers and conservationists who are serving as advisors on the project.
The idea for the study came from a growing awareness of the relevance of fungal networks for trees and other plants. According to BBC News, these fungi allow trees to share nutrients through a system known as the Wood Wide Web. The network is largely unexplored but vast, spanning 450 quadrillion kilometers (about 280 quadrillion miles), roughly half the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
Human activities such as agriculture, fertilizers, pesticides, deforestation, and urbanization, however, pose a threat to these fungal networks. Despite this, more than half of the life below the earth is ignored in plans to safeguard biodiversity hotspots.
“Not a moment too soon, the public is waking up to the importance of the mycelial underground to the health of our planet and indeed to our survival as a species,” Pollan stated.
Over the following 18 months, SPUN plans to employ machine learning to identify fungal biodiversity hotspots and collect 10,000 samples from these environments. The first collection will take place in Patagonia’s highlands in April 2022. The Canadian tundra, the Mexican plateau, Morocco’s western Sahara, Israel’s Negev desert, Kazakhstan’s steppes, Tibet’s grasslands, and Russia’s taiga are all possible network hotspots, according to The Guardian. SPUN intends to identify the most vulnerable subsurface ecosystems and devise methods to safeguard them once the maps are completed.
The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust made a generous grant to this initiative.
“Just below our feet lies an invaluable ally in mitigating climate change – vast hidden fungal networks…Billions of tons of carbon dioxide flow annually from plants into fungal networks. And yet, these carbon sinks are poorly understood. In working to map and harness this threatened but vital resource for life on earth, the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks is pioneering a new chapter in global conservation,” stated Jeremy Grantham, who has pledged 98 percent of his net worth to fighting the climate crisis.
Source: “Underground World of Fungi to Be Mapped for the First Time” by EcoWatch