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article imageAtmospheric carbon is mostly to do with the soil

By Tim Sandle     Jan 10, 2014 in Science
As an alternative to more established theories of global warming relating to levels of atmospheric carbon, a new research area considers that carbon levels in the atmosphere are most affected by the composition of the soil.
Soil contains more carbon than air and plants combined. This would suggest that even a minor change in soil carbon could have major implications for the Earth's atmosphere and climate.
New research suggests that it is fungi that have a major influence on the carbon levels in soil and eventually the carbon levels in the atmosphere. By examining patterns of symbiotic fungi, researchers have shown that higher levels of fungi can lead to 70 percent more carbon in the soil. The role of these fungi is currently not typically considered in global climate models.
The role of soil fungi is important because the majority of plants link up with fungi, exchanging plant carbon for soil nutrients supplied by the fungus.
By examining over 200 soil profiles from around the globe, a research team found that soils supporting strong fungal-plant communities contained 70 percent more carbon per unit nitrogen than soils that did not.
The inference from the research is that any widespread shift in the species composition of forests could change the amount of carbon stored in soil, with consequences for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
The findings are not to suggest that the global warming debate is not an important one, but it does suggest that the Earth’s ecosystem is both complex and dynamic and that all aspects of the planet should be considered in relation to environmental stability or change.
The study was led by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute scientist Benjamin Turner. The findings have been published in the journal Nature. The paper is titled “Mycorrhiza-mediated competition between plants and decomposers drives soil carbon storage.”
More about Soil, Carbon, Fungi, atmospheric, atmospheric co2
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