Soils are full of life. It is often said that a handful of soil has more living organisms than people on planet Earth. Soils are the stomach of the earth - consuming, digesting, and cycling nutrients and organisms.
"There are two kingdoms that seemingly dominate this lush planet on which we live. The plants and the animals. But there's another group of organisms hidden in the shadows, a group that is significant to life on a global scale. Fungi are neither plant or animal, but their relationship with these organisms and their role within ecosystems is fundamental.
"Fungi can be split into groups depending on their ecological roles. There are the decomposers that feed on dead organic matter and there are those that form mutual relationships with other organisms. I want to take a closer look at these symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi.
"I've come to this ancient forest in South Wales to find out what goes on underneath our feet. Even just walking through this ancient forest, you can smell the soil. It's wonderfully fresh and earthy and this is partly because of the abundance of microorganisms that it contains.
"I've come here to gather soil samples to analyze just how much fungi this ancient soil contains. The soil within this forest has been untouched by humans for centuries and so it's developed a really amazing structure full of humus, This humus is only able to form when there's a mature web of soil organisms, including fungi. So I can't wait to get these samples back to the lab and analyze them.
"I'm not just looking for mushrooms, as these are only the fruiting body of the fungus. Instead, I am looking for tiny, thread-like structures known as hyfae. Hyfae are the thread-like structures that make up the fungal body. And together, these strands make up a huge network known as mycelium. Underneath the microscope, you can see the hyfae in detail. You can see each cell that makes up the hyfael threads and these, all linked together to form a pipeline for nutrients, enzymes, and fluid to pass through.
"Mycorrhizae are a type of fungi that forms symbiotic relationships with plants. The plants capture energy from the sunlight and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar. The plant uses this sugar for cell growth, but up to eighty percent is returned back to the fungi in return for water and nutrients, which the fungi gets from the surrounding soil.
"Fungi and plants have been cooperating together since plants first colonized the land 450 million years ago and since then, fungi have formed relationships with up to ninety-five percent of plant species. In untouched ecosystems, fungi are intrinsically linked with plants, but within many soils worked by man, these mycorrhizal fungi sometimes struggle to thrive.
"Farmers and gardeners alike can utilize the power of mycorrhizal fungi by incorporating them into the soil that they work. This pea seedling was only planted fourteen days ago and you can already see a huge difference in the size and vitality compared to that of this seedling which was planted at the same time, but with no mycorrhizal fungi.
"Incorporating mycorrhizal fungi into the soil and protecting it from further disturbance enables fungal populations to thrive. They are at the base of the soil food web. So once they're happy, the whole system can flourish."
| CLICK to learn about this "wood wide web" (4:59min) - also linked above