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Free-Market Fungi

August 31, 2011

Symbiotic plants and fungi reward generous trade partners and punish stingy ones.



Free-market fungiā€¦I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Global stocks are roiling, but one marketplace has been stable for nearly half a billion years. The traders are fungi and the plant roots they colonize, and the currencies are nutrients and carbohydrates. Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers, of the Free University of the Netherlands, had already found that plants reward fungi that are generous with their nutrients by giving them more carbohydrates in return. In a new study, she looked at it from the other side.

TOBY KIERS (Vrije Universiteit [Free University], Netherlands)

And we saw that indeed, even the fungi are able to determine which plant is giving the most carbon. And they’ll consistently give more nutrients to that root system.


One fungus in her study even hoarded nutritious phosphorous until it became scarce, and then traded it for higher profits in carbs. She’s now looking into exactly how the plants and fungi size up their trading partners and respond accordingly. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.