Israel’s Negev Desert Chosen to Feature on World’s First Mushroom Map
Israel’s Negev Desert has been chosen as one of 10 hotspots in the world where mushrooms – among nature’s invisible heroes – are to be mapped on a global scale for the first time.
The initiative, launched by an organization called the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN), will focus on large underground networks of fungal wires that interact with the roots of around 90% of plants and could be essential for absorbing large amounts of carbon. .
“Fungal networks underpin life on Earth. If trees are the “lungs” of the planet, fungal networks are the “circulatory systems”, “SPUN’s governing body member Mark Terceka told the British Guardian newspaper.
While fungi are the most visible body parts of fungi, they are just the reproductive organs, roughly similar to the fruits of plants, although they produce spores rather than seeds.
Below them run massive networks of fungal threads, known as the mycelium. SPUN estimates that in the top ten centimeters (3 inches) of soil alone there is enough fungal mycelium to cover “about half the width of our galaxy.”
And these networks suck up massive amounts of carbon, which SPUN estimates between 5 and 17 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The low estimate is equal to more than half of all energy-related CO₂ emissions in 2021.
“It is generally accepted that tropical forests contain the majority of the terrestrial carbon of the planet, but underground ecosystems at high latitudes hold 13 times more carbon,” explains SPUN.
However, these networks are threatened by fears that “over 90% of the Earth’s soil will be degraded by 2050” due to man-made threats ranging from habitat loss, agricultural chemicals, pollution and deforestation, the risks of extreme temperatures linked to climate change. , drought and floods.
That’s why scientists at SPUN hope to map networks to identify areas and ecosystems facing the greatest threats and, according to the Guardian, partner with local conservation organizations to create ‘conservation corridors’ for these systems. underground.
These would be the underground equivalent of the aerial ecological corridors considered today as essential to link nature reserves and allow the free movement of animals (and plants) while open space gives way to urban development.
SPUN, whose work is funded by billionaire British-born investor Jeremy Grantham, has already mapped its first 10,000 network samples and, over the next 18 months, will collect an additional 10,000 in a variety of ecosystems, across all of them. the continents of the Earth.
Besides the Negev Desert in southern Israel, these will include Morocco, the steppes of Kazakhstan, Western Sahara, the grasslands and high plains of Tibet, the tundra in Canada, the boreal forest of Russia, the plateau Mexican and high altitude regions of South America.
Fungal networks also provide what has been dubbed the “Wood Wide Web” or “the information highway”, through which plants exchange information, and even food.
There is already significant research on the fungal networks of the Negev.
Dr. Isabella Grishkan, a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa in northern Israel, has been studying Negev fungal networks for decades, although she focuses on free networks that operate independently of plant roots.
The key role of the networks she studies is to break down organic waste into its constituent parts.
Grishkan, who identified 450 species within these free-running networks, noted the surprisingly rich diversity of fungi in such a harsh environment.
She found that most manage to survive the extreme heat and drought of the Negev using melanin, the dark pigment that also helps humans cope with desert environments.