Nav: Home

Forest discovery: Trees trade carbon among each other

April 14, 2016

Forest trees use carbon not only for themselves; they also trade large quantities of it with their neighbours. Botanists from the University of Basel report this in the journal Science. The extensive carbon trade among trees - even among different species - is conducted via symbiotic fungi in the soil.

It is well known that plants take up carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis. The resulting sugar is used to build cellulose, wood pulp (lignin), protein and lipid - the building blocks of plants. While growing, the tree transports sugar from its leaves to the building sites: to the branches, stems, roots and to their symbiotic fungi below ground (mycorrhizal fungi).

Carbon dioxide shower for trees

Dr. Tamir Klein and Prof. Christian Körner of the University of Basel together with Dr. Rolf Siegwolf of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) now report, that this sugar export goes further than previously thought. In a forest near Basel the researchers used a construction crane and a network of fine tubes to flood the crowns of 120 year old and 40 meter tall spruce trees with carbon dioxide that carried a label. The researchers used carbon dioxide that, compared to normal air, contains less of the rare and heavier 13C atom.

While this modification made no difference for the trees, it allowed the botanists to track the carbon through the entire tree using an atomic mass spectrometer. This way they were able to trace the path of the carbon taken up by photosynthesis from the crowns down to the root tips. The researchers found the labelled carbon not only in the roots of the marked spruce trees. The roots of the neighbouring trees also showed the same marker, even though they had not received labelled carbon dioxide. This included trees from other species.

"Forest is more than the sum of its trees"

The only way the carbon could have been exchanged from spruce to beech, pine or larch tree - or vice versa - is by the network of tiny fungal filaments of the shared mycorrhizal fungi. Understory plants which partner up with other types of fungi remained entirely unmarked. The research group called the discovered exchange of large quantities of carbon among completely unrelated tree species in a natural forest "a big surprise".

According to the researchers, the discovery questions the concept of tree individuality with regard to the single largest constituent of the biosphere, tree carbon. Furthermore, the results of the study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation add a new dimension to the role of mycorrhizal fungi in forests. "Evidently the forest is more than the sum of its trees", comments Prof. Christian Körner the findings.
-end-


University of Basel

Related Carbon Articles:

The carbon dioxide loop
Marine biologists quantify the carbon consumption of bacterioplankton to better understand the ocean carbon cycle.
Transforming the carbon economy
A task force commissioned in 2016 by former US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has proposed a framework for evaluating R&D on recycling carbon dioxide and removing large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Closing the carbon loop
Research at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering focused on developing a new catalyst that would lead to large-scale implementation of capture and conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) was recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Catalysis Science & Technology.
An overlooked source of carbon emissions
Nations that pledged to carry out the Paris climate agreement have moved forward to find practical ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including efforts to ban hydrofluorocarbons and set stricter fuel-efficiency standards.
Enabling direct carbon capture
Researchers have developed a solid material that can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, even at very low concentrations.
More Carbon News and Carbon Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...