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What are Mycorrhizal fungi?
Every healthy forest ecosystem is infused with networks of beneficial fungi that support trees by supplying essential nutrients through their roots. Known as mycorrhizal fungi, this group of soilborne organisms are found in almost all ecosystems and form symbiotic relationships with 95% of vascular plants on Earth (Moore et al., 2020).

Forming these associations allows fungi to provide their plant hosts with nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and trace minerals such as potassium, calcium, copper, zinc and iron, in exchange for photosynthesised carbohydrates. This underground nutrient economy affects the ecology of the soil by allowing nutrients to flux between plants through their shared fungi, resulting in what has been called the wood-wide web.

We specifically work with ectomycorrhizal fungi - species that associate with trees in the beech, pine, willow, and lime tree families.

Ectomycorrhizal fungi form the most advanced symbiotic associations between fungi and plants and are exclusive to trees and woody shrubs. Temperate and boreal forests cover about 25% of Earth’s terrestrial land surface and are all supported by ectomycorrhizal fungal networks, making them vitally important for maintaining planetary health. A future with more trees requires a future with more ectomycorrhizal fungi.

Benefits to trees

The ‘true’ body of a fungus is composed of microscopic threads called hyphae, and it has been estimated that the ratio of total hyphal length to root length in ectomycorrhizal fungi can be as high as 100,000:1 in a mature fungal network (Read, 1991). This ability to acquire nutrients 100,000 times more efficiently than tree roots explains why natural forest ecosystems can persist for so long. However, the benefits of mycorrhizal fungi extend beyond just nutrition.

Mycorrhizal fungi are important agents in mediating the fertility, structure, and carbon storage potential of soil. In natural woodlands, young saplings rely almost exclusively on fungal nutrients to establish. In addition, when trees have the right complement of nutrients, their defences against pathogens - including fungal ones - is enhanced.

The structure of the soil itself is affected by ectomycorrhizal fungi, which aggregate soil particles together, allowing it to hold more water and giving it that characteristic ‘loamy’ texture in healthy habitats. This ability to hold water, and the ability of fungal hyphae to reach deep into moisture reserves has profound impacts on overall soil hydraulics, and can confer increased tree tolerance to drought events.

The need for the right ectomycorrhizal fungi is made clear when trees are planted on degraded soils and ex-agricultural sites that are devoid of their fungal partners. Sapling mortality is much higher in these regions, which poses a setback for landowners interested in accelerating woodland and forest establishment. In these regions, inoculating young trees with ectomycorrhizal fungi has been shown to yield the greatest returns.