Story at a glance

  • The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks has undertaken a new project taking thousands of samples to map underground fungal networks.
  • These fungal networks, which can cover miles, are responsible for absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, creating underground nutrient networks for other plantlife.
  • Collections will begin in 2022 in Patagonia and continue for about 18 months.

The Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN) has undertaken a new project taking thousands of samples to map the underground fungal networks that comprise the Earth’s “circulatory system.”

“An understanding of underground fungal networks is essential to our efforts to protect the soil, on which life depends, before it is too late,” Jane Goodall, a renowned primatologist and anthropologist who is acting as an adviser for the project, told The Guardian.

These fungal networks, which can cover miles, are responsible for absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, creating underground nutrient networks for other plant life.

SPUN — composed of scientists and researchers from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom — will collect about 10,000 samples worldwide to identify hotspots and areas under threat due to things such as pollution and urbanization.


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“Fungal networks underpin life on Earth,” said Mark Tercek, former CEO of the Nature Conservancy and a member of SPUN’s governing body. “If trees are the ‘lungs’ of the planet, fungal networks are the ‘circulatory systems.’ These networks are largely unexplored.”

Collections will begin in 2022 in Patagonia and continue for about 18 months. Once threatened networks are identified, SPUN will work with local conservation agencies to work toward preserving and protecting the detected fungal networks.

Some hotspots for fungal networks already identified by scientists include the Canadian tundra, the Mexican plateau, higher altitudes in South America, Morocco, the western Sahara, the Negev desert in Israel, the Kazakh Steppe, grasslands and high plains in Tibet, and the Russian taiga.


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Published on Nov 30, 2021