Questions for ‘Secret forest fungi partner with plants — and help the climate’

a photo of light beaming into a forest with verdant undergrowth

Forest visitors tend to look for single paths between the trees. But hidden below the forest floor a tangled maze of pathways connects trees together. Unseen, this vast fungal network shuttles carbon and other nutrients around the forest. Welcome to the wood wide web.

bob van den berg photography/Moment/Getty Images Plus

To accompany feature “Secret forest fungi partner with plants — and help the climate


Before Reading:

1.  Different types of fungus grow all around us. When you think of fungi, what comes to mind?

2.  In a forest, where would you expect to find a fungus growing? What role might fungi play in a forest?

During Reading:

1.  What are mycelia?

2.  What do all fungi need to grow? How do fungi get the carbon they need?

3.  What’s the difference between ectomycorrhizae, or EM, and arbuscular mycorrhizae, or AM?

4.  What kind of trading system do some fungi and plants have with one another?

5.  Describe the experiment that tested the memory of a fungus that feeds on wood.

6.  Scientists know that mycelia — underground fungal networks — give plants nutrients in exchange for carbon. What’s another way mycelia help plants? How might relaying messages between plants help mycelia?

7.  How might the interaction of mycelia with forest trees help fight climate change?

8.  Which type of fungal network — AM or EM — is more ancient? Which type forms a larger and more interconnected network with plants?

9.  Besides mycelia, what are three other organisms found in the soil that move carbon?

10. By studying data on forests around the world, scientists learned the EM and AM fungal networks thrive in different climates. Based on what you read, how might a warming planet change the distribution of EM and AM networks? What effect might that have on CO2 levels in the air?

After Reading:

1. Forest fungi do not have brains yet they move around to find food. And they “remember” where they found a rich food source in the past. How do you think they “make such decisions”?

2. Using ideas described in the story, explain why a disruption of the interactions between fungi and plants could have big impacts on our planet.