Vincent Merckx, who specializes in collaboration between fungi and plant roots, is participating in this project on behalf of Naturalis. “These networks consist of fungi that form networks down to the roots of plants,” Merckx explains. “Fungi help plants absorb nutrients (nutrients, ed.) from the soil. These fungi can serve multiple plant roots at the same time. So they tie all those plants or trees or herbs together. These are very complex networks under our feet, and they are very great importance to our factories.”
Warning and stress transmission
Do plants communicate with each other through these networks? “It’s a bit dangerous to call it communication, but they can actually exchange signals over those networks. For example, they can warn each other if insects on the road are eating leaves. They can even transmit stress. So these networks really allow for a certain level of communication between plants. “.
What exactly will scientists study? “Well, we’ve known for a long time that these networks exist. But because we can’t see them very well – they are very broad, but the wires are microscopically small – we have never been able to properly map those networks. Now we can finally map these networks based on the analytics genetics, and thus looking at those complex structures.”
200 meters on a teaspoon
Fungal networks show great diversity. “One teaspoon of soil in your garden can contain up to 400 different types of fungi. That same teaspoon of soil contains 200 meters of fungal hyphae. This is an enormous diversity, about which we know so little.” What is the point of learning more about it? These fungi play a very important role in the functioning of our ecosystems. They help plants grow, store carbon in the soil, and play a key role in nutrient cycles, such as nitrogen. So they are essential for healthy ecosystems, including parks and the city.”