Plants’ Ability to Slow Climate Change Depends on their Fungi

Author: Hayley Dunning

Plants take in carbon dioxide for growth, and in a greenhouse, raising the levels of carbon dioxide can boost their growth. This boost is known as the ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’.

Our paper is… a huge step forward in climate science that will help make more accurate predictions of the effects of CO2 in the future.

– César Terrer

This effect also works on a global scale, with plants currently absorbing about 30 percent of human CO2 emissions. This helps to remove some extra CO2 from the atmosphere, slowing down the rate of climate change.

However, it was not known whether this effect would continue indefinitely, and plants would continue to take up the same percentage of extra CO2 emissions with rising levels. Experiments across the world that increase CO2 levels beyond current levels have given mixed results, with some showing greatly increased plant growth and associated CO2 uptake, and others showing little to no additional growth and uptake.

Now, new research led by scientists from Imperial College London has revealed that fungi are key to understanding how plants will behave. The study is published today in Science, and includes researchers from Northern Arizona University, Indiana University and the University of Antwerp.