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Pollution, Fungi, and Trees

June 11, 2018

Pollution could be short-circuiting a mutualistic relationship between trees and fungi.


OtideaonoticaOak Laura M Suz

Ectomycorrhizae on the roots of an oak tree. (Laura M Suz)


Pollution, fungus, and trees. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

They’re invisible above ground, but every tree in the forest depends on a hidden network of root fungi called mycorrhizae to stay healthy. They provide the tree with nitrogen and other nutrients gleaned from the soil and in exchange, receive energy from the tree. But pollution may be disrupting this mutualistic relationship by flooding the soil with too many nutrients, according to University College London ecologist Martin Bidartondo.

MARTIN BIDARTONDO (Imperial College London):

When we think about pollutants, the same compound can act as a fertilizer when it’s in low amounts but when you get very high amounts, it starts to kill cells.


His team reports in the journal Nature that the areas of Europe hardest hit by pollution may favor fungi that actually thrive on it, but harm forests. They think pollution limits should be lowered to protect forest health. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard