Can Soil Inoculation Accelerate Carbon Sequestration in Forests?

When foresters first tried to plant non-native Pinus radiata in the southern hemisphere, the trees would not grow until someone thought to bring a handful of soil from the native environment. “They didn’t know it then, but they were reintroducing the spores of fungi that these trees need in order to establish,” Colin Averill, ecologist at The Crowther Lab, explains. “When we plant trees, we rarely ‘plant’ the soil microbiome. But if we do, we can really accelerate the process of restoration.”

That process of restoration has become one of humanity’s most urgent missions. In order to slow global warming, we know that we need to decarbonize our economy and start removing carbon from the atmosphere – and we’ve largely been looking at doing so through dreams of negative emissions technologies and schemes of tree-planting.

But only very recently has more attention been turned toward another major potential tool for carbon capture: soil. An astonishing 80 percent of the carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems is stored underground. According to the 4 per 1000 Initiative, a modest and achievable increase in soil carbon of 0.4 percent could be enough to stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.