For the first time, the boundary between fungi and rock has been imaged on a nanoscale -- unraveling the fundamental processes by which fungi break down rocks into soil whilst extracting essential nutrients.
In a new study published in the journal Geology, Bonneville et al. show that fungi launch a dual attack to decompose rocks, first weakening them through mechanical strain and then by chemical alteration.
This process is extremely common (occurring in 90% of trees in the Northern Hemisphere where roots are in symbiosis with fungi), but up to this point little understood. In exchange for the delivery of nutrients, the fungi receive carbon that has been fixed by the trees during photosynthesis, which effectively links the carbon cycle with the formation of soil from rocks.
The implications of this work are therefore very broad, from soil fertility and agriculture to the chemistry of river water, the atmosphere, and Earth's climate.
- Steeve Bonneville, Mark M. Smits, Andrew Brown, John Harrington, Jonathan R. Leake, Rik Brydson, and Liane G. Benning. Plant-driven fungal weathering: Early stages of mineral alteration at the nanometer scale. Geology, 2009; DOI: 10.1130/G25699A.1
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