The Valdivian Coastal Reserve was mentioned once in our pages, only in passing.
Strange, because if I was asked to name my favorite protected area on the planet it would be at or near the top of my list. The abundant but threatened alerce trees were part of the reason. A family story would explain more of why, and that is part of a larger work story that needs more attention another time.
The story below, featuring an adjacent protected area, stirs an intense place memory, and at the same time reveals much about a topic that was not on our radar at the time. And it says much about potential futures for that place. So, thanks to the New York Times climate correspondent Somini Sengupta (again and again) as well as photographer Tomás Munita:
Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus
In the fight against warming, a formidable ally hides just beneath our feet.
ALERCE COSTERO NATIONAL PARK, Chile — Toby Kiers took long strides across the spongy forest floor, felt the adrenaline rush in her veins and stopped at the spot she had traveled so far to reach. Into the ground went a hollow metal cylinder. Out came a scoop of soil.
Dr. Kiers stuck her nose into the dirt, inhaled its scent, imagined what secrets it contained to help us live on a hotter planet. “What’s under here?” she asked. “What mysteries are we going to unveil?”
The soil was deposited into a clear plastic bag, then labeled with the coordinates of this exact location on Earth.
Dr. Kiers, 45, an evolutionary biologist based at the Free University of Amsterdam, is on a novel mission. She is probing a vast and poorly understood universe of underground fungi that can be vital, in her view, in the era of climate change.
Some species of fungi can store exceptional levels of carbon underground, keeping it out of the air and preventing it from heating up the Earth’s atmosphere. Others help plants survive brutal droughts or fight off pests. There are those especially good at feeding nutrients to crops, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
In short, they are what she called “levers” to address the hazards of a warming climate.
Yet they remain a mystery.
Dr. Kiers wants to know which fungi species are where, what they do, and which should be immediately protected. In short, she wants to create an atlas of all that which we cannot see. And all that is right under our feet.
“It’s seeing Earth’s metabolism,” she said. “Who is there? What is their function? Right now, we are concerned so heavily on the overground, we are literally missing half the picture.”…
Read the whole article here.