Study Shows Pollution Kills Fungi that Nourish the Trees


A new study shows that Europe’s trees are at risk because of pollution that kills essential fungi. There are fungi on the roots of the trees that supply them with water and minerals. According to the researchers, the pollution limit might not help to protect the forest fungi.

Malnourished trees would have missing leaves and discoloration. The study found that the loss of fungi is one of the factors. The findings were published in the journal Nature.

Dr. Martin Bidartondo with the department of life sciences (Imperial College London and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), stated:

“If we care about the condition of our forests – what shape they’re in – we can’t just look above (the ground). We need to look below – we need to understand how the fungi are nourishing the trees.”

A species of fungi called mycorrhizal fungi will receive carbon from trees and give them back nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, nutrients that are released into the soil and which nourish the trees.

The study lasted for over ten years. Researchers analyzed 40,000 roots from 13,000 soil samples. They took the samples from 137 forest sites, from 20 European countries.

They focused on different types of trees across Europe: beech, oak, pine and spruce trees. Conservation policies don’t protect fungi enough, so it makes difficult to assess which species have declined or which are rare.

“European pollution limits may be set far too high.” – Dr. Bidartondo

Dr. Laura M Suz (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) is a co-researcher on the study. She said that air and soil quality impacts mycorrhizae:

“Trees need this fungi to get nutrients and water from soil and there are factors like pollution that are affecting this fungi. We need to be aware of it at least because these fungi are essential for the growth and the health of the trees.”

Dr. Bidartondo added that North America limits on pollution are much lower and that Europe should lower the limit too.


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