For more than 400 million years, mycorrhizal fungi and plants have formed partnerships that are crucial to the emergence and functioning of global ecosystems. The importance of these symbiotic fungi for plant nutrition is well established. However, the role of mycorrhizal fungi in transporting carbon into soil systems on a global scale remains under-explored. This is surprising given that ∼75% of terrestrial carbon is stored belowground and mycorrhizal fungi are stationed at a key entry point of carbon into soil food webs. Here, we analyze nearly 200 datasets to provide the first global quantitative estimates of carbon allocation from plants to the mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi. We estimate that global plant communities allocate 3.93 Gt CO2e per year to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, 9.07 Gt CO2e per year to ectomycorrhizal fungi, and 0.12 Gt CO2e per year to ericoid mycorrhizal fungi. Based on this estimate, 13.12 Gt of CO2e fixed by terrestrial plants is, at least temporarily, allocated to the underground mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi per year, equating to ∼36% of current annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. We explore the mechanisms by which mycorrhizal fungi affect soil carbon pools and identify approaches to increase our understanding of global carbon fluxes via plant–fungal pathways. Our estimates, although based on the best available evidence, are imperfect and should be interpreted with caution. Nonetheless, our estimations are conservative, and we argue that this work confirms the significant contribution made by mycorrhizal associations to global carbon dynamics. Our findings should motivate their inclusion both within global climate and carbon cycling models, and within conservation policy and practice.

Elsevier/ Cell Press
Current Biol.

Hawkins, H.-J., Cargill, R., Van Nuland, M., Hagen, S., Field, K., Sheldrake, M., … Kiers, T. (2023). Mycorrhizal mycelium as a global carbon pool. Current Biol. (Vol. 33, pp. R560–R573). doi:10.1016/j.cub.2023.02.027