7. Mycorrhizal fungi

Mycorrhizal fungi

© Strobilomyces GNU FDL

7 wonders of the soil

Every handful of soil can host thousands of fungi species, of which there are at least a million. Best known for breaking down organic matter, fungi make nutrients available for other organisms. Among the most important are mycorrhizal fungi living in symbiosis with more than 90 per cent of the plants on Earth, surrounding and penetrating their roots. The fungi absorb sugars from the plants while spreading filaments further out into the soil than plant roots can reach, absorbing water and nutrients that they make available to the plant. We eat some of their fruiting bodies – chanterelles, truffles and porcini. Scientists recently found evidence that mycorrhizal fungi played a key role in enabling early land plants to green the Earth in the early Paleozoic era, more than 470 million years ago, thus shifting the atmospheric balance of the planet towards the oxygen-laden air on which life on Earth now depends.

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