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Video: How to harness the ancient partnership between forests and fungi

If we want to better understand the environment and combat climate change, we need to look deep underground, where diverse microscopic fungal networks mingle with tree roots to form symbiotic partnerships, says microbiologist Colin Averill. As we learn more about which of these fungi are most beneficial to forest health, we can reintroduce them into the soil — potentially enhancing the growth and resilience of carbon-trapping trees and plants. Hear more about the emerging science aiming to supercharge forest ecosystems, one handful of soil at a time.

Colin Averill speaks of his work as a microbiologist specializing in fungal biodiversity:

Soils are alive. Incredibly diverse forest microbial communities have profound impacts on our world that we are just beginning to grasp. My team studies the forest microbiome. How does incredible microbial diversity affect which trees are in a forest, forest carbon sequestration and climate change forecasts? I focus on the ecology of mycorrhizal fungi – fungi that form a symbiosis with the roots of most plants on Earth – however I am broadly interested in links between microbes and ecosystems.

My academic home is in the Crowther Lab at ETH Zürich. My team applies the methods of the human microbiome project to the forest, identifying combination of soil bacteria and fungi linked to forest carbon capture outcomes. Day to day work involves DNA sequencing, big data analysis, and developing new ways to translate microbiome information into ecological insight. We use forestry and reforestation projects to test the causality of our big data work, allowing our team to quantify the potential of active soil microbiome restoration to accelerate forest carbon capture as a climate solution. Our goal is to identify places where we can create positive outcomes for soil biodiversity and climate.

I founded Funga to translate my academic work into climate and biodiversity action. Funga is a startup that reintroduces fungal biodiversity intro forest landscapes to accelerate tree growth and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. More and more companies forming at the intersection of ecology and carbon cycle science as markets emerge around biodiversity and carbon. I think ecologists need to embrace the opportunity to bring the science to scale. Scaling forest microbiome discoveries into climate action is a unique challenge that needs to be met by a team of experts in microbial ecology, carbon cycle science, business strategy and forest operations.

I am a co-founder of SPUN | Society for the Protection of Underground Networks, the first global conservation organization dedicated to mycorrhizal fungi. I continue to serve as a scientific advisor for SPUN, consulting on fungal biodiversity mapping work. I am also a scientific advisor at Restor, a platform for the global restoration movement.

Colin Averill (source: Crowther Lab)

9 comments on “Video: How to harness the ancient partnership between forests and fungi

  1. Robert G. Qualls
    June 4, 2023

    Excellent accessible content for non-scientists. ——Robert G. Qualls, Professor Emeritus, University of Nevada, Microbial Ecologist.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rose Mary Boehm
    April 25, 2023


    • Vox Populi
      April 25, 2023

      Thanks, Rose Mary. I love Fantastic Fungi. Great film.



  3. Barbara Huntington
    April 25, 2023

    Interdependence. Love this


  4. laureanne2013
    April 25, 2023

    How nature teaches us the most extraordinary lessons (and wonderful people like Colin Averill!)


  5. Leo
    April 25, 2023

    I would recommend the book “The Hidden Halt of Nature” by David Montgomery and Anne Bikle as a good basic introduction to this subject. The book can help give a not-scientist like myself a basic understanding of this, to me, enthralling and way important subject.


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