The Relationship of Fungi to Soil in Nature’s Restoration

(Photo Credit: Stas Ovsky)

(ABOVE) How strong are the ‘relationships’ in soil communities? From left to right the interaction strength between groups in seminatural grasslands are visualized on recently, mid-term and long-term abandoned agricultural fields. (CREDIT: Elly Morriën et al. / Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW))

‘Relationships’ in the soil become stronger during the process of nature restoration. Although all major groups of soil life are already present in former agricultural soils, they are not really ‘connected’ at first. These connections need time to (literally) grow, and fungi are the star performers here. A European research team led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) has shown the complete network of soil life for the first time. Last month, the results of the extensive study were published in Nature Communications.

Earthworms, fungi, nematodes, mites, springtails, bacteria: it’s very busy underground! All soil life together forms one giant society. Under natural circumstances, that is. A large European research team discovered that when you try to restore nature on grasslands formerly used as agricultural fields, there is something missing. Lead author Elly Morriën from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology explains: “All the overarching, known groups of soil organisms are present from the start, but the links between them are missing. Because they don’t ‘socialise’, the community isn’t ready to support a diverse plant community yet.”

When nature restoration progresses, you’ll see new species appearing. But those major groups of soil life remain the same and their links grow stronger. “Just like the development of human communities”, says Morriën. “People start to take care of each other. In the soil, you can see that organisms use each other’s by-products as food.” In this way, nature can store and use nutrients such as carbon far more efficiently.

“Fungi turn out to play a very important role in nature restoration, appearing to drive the development of new networks in the soil.” In agricultural soils, the thready fungal hyphae are severely reduced by ploughing for example, and therefore the undamaged soil bacteria have an advantage and rule here. The researchers studied a series of former agricultural fields that had changed use 6 to 30 years previously. With time, there is a strong increase in the role of fungi.

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Climate Change All-in-One Graph

“All the risks of climate change, in a single graph”

The risks of climate change are not easy to communicate clearly. Since the atmosphere affects everything, everything will be affected by its warming — there’s no single risk, but a wide and varied array of risks, of different severity and scales, affecting different systems, unfolding on different timelines.

One of the better-known and more controversial attempts to address this problem is a graphic from the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The so-called “burning embers” graph attempts to render the various risks of climate change — “reasons for concern,” or RFCs — in an easy-to-grasp visual form.

Long story short, they find that the graphic is generally accurate (though it has key limitations). They offer suggestions for how the RFC framework could be extended in the future to “better account for possible changes in social and ecological system vulnerability.”

As you can see, there is a ton of information about the risks of climate change crammed in there, so it’s worth unpacking a bit. It offers a remarkably coherent overview of the various risks that lie ahead this century.

The thermometer on the right shows temperatures relative to preindustrial levels; the thermometer on the left shows them relative to 1986-2005. The distance between the two blue lines is warming that occurred through 2005. (As that note on the right indicates, warming is up a bit 2003-2012.)

Following the IPCC, risks are divided into five buckets or RFCs:

  1. Risks to unique and threatened systems. These are ecological or human systems that are geographically constrained and have a high degree of “endemism” — they are uniquely adapted to a particular geography and climate. The authors cite as examples “tropical glacier systems, coral reefs, mangrove ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, and unique indigenous communities.”
  2. Risks associated with extreme weather events. This is what it says, i.e., “risk to human health, livelihoods, assets, and ecosystems from extremes such as heat waves, heavy rain, drought and associated wildfires, and coastal flooding.”
  3. Risks associated with the distribution of impacts. This reflects the fact that some groups will be hit earlier and harder than others. Distribution of impacts can be uneven with respect to “geographic location, income and wealth, gender, age, or other physical and socioeconomic characteristics.”
  4. Risks associated with global aggregate impacts. This refers to “impacts to socio-ecological systems that can be aggregated globally according to a single metric such as lives affected, monetary damage, number of species at risk of extinction, or degradation and loss of a number of ecosystems at a global scale.”
  5. Risks associated with large-scale singular events. These are the much-discussed “tipping points,” whereby a series of incremental changes pushes some system over a threshold, at which point it shifts into a period of rapid, discontinuous, and sometimes irreversible change. The iconic example here is “disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets leading to a large and rapid sea-level rise.”

For more information on climate change and this “all-in-one” graph visit the source on Flipboard by David Roberts.