Friday, February 16, 2018

Northern Arizona University: Mycorrhizal Fungi boost nutritional value up the Food Chain

Plants, and bacteria, and fungi! Oh My!
Image - Wanderlust Travel

Nancy Johnson collecting soil samples in the Serengeti
Nancy Johnson, an Northern Arizona University ecology professor, contributed field samples to a global-scale study of the biogeography of Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, also known as AM fungi. Johnson is listed as an international co-author on the paper. These fungi support 80 percent of plant species, including crops, by capturing nutrients from soil. Johnson said understanding how different species of AM fungi are distributed around the globe is important because of the vital roles they play in the ecosystem. These researchers gathered 1,014 fungi samples from six continents, and what they discovered was surprising. “Our study suggests that most species of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are found all over the world, which is rather unusual among organisms,” Johnson said. “The question is, how do they get everywhere?”
Abstract: The global biogeography of microorganisms remains largely unknown, in contrast to the well-studied diversity patterns of macroorganisms. We used arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungus DNA from 1014 plant-root samples collected worldwide to determine the global distribution of these plant symbionts. We found that AM fungal communities reflected local environmental conditions and the spatial distance between sites. However, despite AM fungi apparently possessing limited dispersal ability, we found 93% of taxa on multiple continents and 34% on all six continents surveyed. This contrasts with the high spatial turnover of other fungal taxa and with the endemism displayed by plants at the global scale. We suggest that the biogeography of AM fungi is driven by unexpectedly efficient dispersal, probably via both abiotic and biotic vectors, including humans.


The complex Serengeti ecosystem, which spans 12,000 square miles extending from northern Tanzania into southwestern Kenya, is home to millions of animals, including 70 species of large mammals. It is a hotspot for mammal diversity—including herbivores such as wildebeest, zebra and gazelles that graze on grasses and trees, as well as lions, crocodiles, leopards and hyenas that survive by preying on the grazing herbivores.  

(New Study) published in the Journal of Ecology by a team of Northern Arizona University researchers shows the food web supporting this remarkable variety of wildlife would appear very different without the nutrients supplied by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The interdisciplinary study, authored by graduate students in NAU’s School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability  —Bo Stevens, Jeffrey Propster, Andrew Abraham and Chase Ridenour—along with assistant professor of informatics, computing, and cyber systems Christopher Doughty and Regents’ Professor of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability Nancy Johnson, quantifies the importance of AM fungi in the soil of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Illustration by Victor Leshyk

Artist’s depiction of the Serengeti food web with normal AM (left)
 and a hypothetical food web without nutrient inputs from
 these important symbioses (right).

AM fungi, a type of mycorrhizal fungi, penetrate the roots of grasses and other plants native to the Serengeti. Considered natural biofertilizers, AM fungi provide their host plants with water, nutrients and pathogen protection in exchange for photosynthesis. The symbiotic relationship between AM fungi and plants, which has evolved for millions of years, is critical for the uptake of essential plant nutrients such as phosphorus. In turn, the nutritional quality of the plains’ grasses and trees influences the biomass of the herbivores and their predators.  

By creating an ecosystem simulation that enabled the researchers to measure the biomass of AM fungi across a natural soil fertility gradient and estimate the contribution of mycorrhizal symbioses to the biomass of all plants and animals in the Serengeti, the researchers were able to estimate the animal biomass that results from phosphorus supplied to plants through AM fungi.  

This study shows the contribution of mycorrhizal symbioses to the growth and nutritional quality of grasses cascades through the biomass of large grazing mammals and their predators. Although AM fungi amount to less than 1 percent of the overall living biomass in the Serengeti, their predicted nutrient inputs into the food web doubled animal biomass.  

“It’s really surprising that a small group of microbes can have such a large impact on an entire ecosystem,” said Stevens, lead author of the study. “We always knew that mycorrhizal fungi were important for grass nutrition in the Serengeti. Now we can say how important they are for the nutrition of animals up the food chain, from zebras to lions.”
"The answer my friend is isn't blowing in the wind"
Image - Roeselien Raimond

Image - Earthcrew Inc
The main subject of this research was certainly mycorrhizal fungi, but not the type that produces truffle or mushroom formation that we are used to seeing. This fungi was endo-mycorrhizal fungi which produce large propagules which don't necessarily move through soil pores as easily as the tinier microscopic spore of the ecto-mycorrhizal truffle which can explode with a cloud of brown powder we see in real life. This spore dust can even travel for miles and land in numerous places along the way. These spores are so tiny that they can move and be washed downward into the soil during rain storms where roots can make contact and colonize. But not the propagules of endo-mycorrhizal. Personally I always thought their movement was facilitated by animals like pocket gophers, maybe various insects etc. But this research was still interesting given that we accept endemic species (plants, animals, birds, fish, etc) around the globe to specific geographic locations, but many of these same identical endo-mycorrhizal species apparently are everywhere around the globe. How did that happen ??? 😲 Given that they don't exactly blow in the wind like all the exploding puffball ecto-mycorrhizal spores, how do they move and travel ??? Maybe it's the soil scientists doing it with their field trip sample collections 😄

Take this species of endo-mycorrhizae in the photo at left here is found in most popular commercial Mycorrhizal inoculent blends offered by many companies. Glomus deserticola fungi are found everywhere around the globe, even Siberia. I assume it was given the name because it was first recorded and given the name from it's first documented location in the southwest. It's an important fungal species, because they are found in nearly all terrestrial habitats, including arable land, deserts, grasslands, temperate, boreal, tropical forests, and tundras. Anyway the mode of movement is still very intriguing and fascinating. Next time you hear someone recite an old chant of, "You don't need to inoculate because the spores are just everywhere out there in the air," don't believe them. Inoculate anyway. 😉 Now, let's consider another important possibility of spore travel that the researchers mentioned above left out.
NASA Earth Observatory: "Smoke's Surprising Secret"
credit: US Air Force photo
 Forrest Mims II is a very well known, "Citizen Scientist," who had no formal academic training in science. And yet Forrest Mims has had a successful career as a science author, researcher, lecturer and syndicated columnist. His series of electronics books sold over 7 million copies and he is widely regarded as one of the world's most prolific citizen scientists. He does scientific studies in many fields using instruments he designs and makes and he has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals, often with professional scientists as co-authors. Much of his research deals with ecology and environmental science. A simple instrument he developed to measure the ozone layer earned him a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 1993. In December 2008 Discover named Mims one of the "50 Best Brains in Science." But's it's Forrest Mims' daughter who steals the show here with her simple experiment on how fungal spores can travel great distances which is related to the subject I'm posting here. It's ashame the researchers never referenced this important experiment published by NASA.

(Image by Mark Gray, GSFC)

(Photograph by Forrest M. Mims III)
Sarah Mims, a teenager from Seguin, Texas, studied how smoke and dust that arrived over her hometown from thousands of miles away from Mexico's. By her senior year in high school, she had already made some surprising discoveries. This Satellite image from the days Mims conducted her experiments revealed smoke from fires in Central America flowing over the Gulf of Mexico and into the Texas sky. Blue-gray smoke stretches from the bottom center of the image toward Texas at the upper left. The bright region extending towards the top of the image from the Yucatan Peninsula is the sun glinting off the ocean’s surface. This image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. 

(Digital Scans by Sarah A. Mims)
Sarah Mims exposed Petrifilms that you see in the photo above outside of her Texas home in April and May of 2002. She was expecting to find micro-organisms carried by Asian dust. Instead, colonies of bacteria and mold (right) grew on days when the air was filled with smoke, not dust. Under a microscope Sarah Mims found fungal spores along with chunks of black carbon or the individual particles of smoke. Once she knew the micro-organisms were associated with smoke, not dust, she needed to find their source and that's wheere NASA's satellite images helped pinpoint the source of the smoke. So this is yet another travel means of microbes globally. How endomycorrhizal propagules reach the soil surface from underground is another mystery. Still, this is interesting.
Earlier Relevant References on the same subject from the Northern Arizona University
(Image courtesy Victor O. Leshyk)
"Ectomycorrhizal fungi (the mushrooms connected to the roots of the tree) increase the uptake of nitrogen by the plant, even when that nutrient is scarce in soils. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (associated with the grass roots on the left) do not provide that advantage to their host."
NAU’s Hungate co-authors research report published in ‘Science’

Credit: mdd/Shutterstock
Study of Serengeti soil may provide model for increasing productivity of croplands in U.S. (2011)
Mycorrhizal Fungal Blend Producing companies

Mycorrhizal Applications Inc

Image - Valent

Valent: MycoApply® EndoPrimeTM

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sustainable Alternative Uses for Western Juniper

Invasion Alert! The western juniper (juniperus occidentalis) 😬😱😨
Image - earthbeours.dom

The beautiful ancient looking tree above is named the Bennett Juniper and it's believed to be the oldest specimen of Juniperus occidentalis known, estimated at about 2200 years old, which is down from an earlier  3000 year age calculation. Still, this tree germinated back in BCE. It's located in the Stanislaus National Forest of California. Its height is 78 feet with an average crown spread of 56 feet. The diameter at breast height (4.5 feet above ground) is 12.7 feet. So it makes it tough to understand the present  alarmist reaction to a tree being called invasive in it's native home range. As you can see in the photo at right, there are a number of trees encroaching on what use to be grasslands. It's not only the Western Juniper that is demonized, but also the Eastern Red Cedar, Ashe Juniper and even the common Pinyon Pine. Ranchers mostly dislike it. They claim the Junipers encroach and destroy grasslands for their grazing operations. Other say it is a greedy water gulping worthless tree. They even provide old historical photos of the landscape vegetation cover from many years ago of an exacting location and what it looks like today as proof of invasion. Take a look below.

Images -

Image - Karen Bryz  (2014)
The so-called Juniper invasion here is a comparison of historical and recent photos taken on the Keystone Ranch east of Prineville, Oregon. There are a number of reasons for the spread like Climate Change, blame given to lack of fire within these ecosystems, but also Juniper seeds don't blow in the wind, they are infact eaten by an incredible variety of birds which later poop them out elsewhere. Like these bluebirds above right. I was reading an article on what trees Oregonians favoured the most when it comes to trees. The Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Firs led the charge for being the most popular as well as Redwoods. I dare say though that if it were their precious Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine or Redwoods which were invading and encroching onto the grassland landscape, nobody would really be freaking out over a so-called invasion. Human Beings have a tendency to judge things in Nature the same way they judge other human beings. What they value as worth is what they find pleasing to the eye, taste or some other personal preferences within the five senses. Money can be made off those species for their natural resources, which would infer Junipers, Cypress, Pinyon, etc are worthless and valueless in their eyes. Yet not everyone sees these trees this way. Take for example this research done by Bob Harms from the University of Texas in Austin. Bob Harms found out that the native Texas Ashe Juniper (also demonized as a grassland invader), actually has worth as a nurse plant for Texas Madrone (Arbutus zalapensis).

Images - Bob Harms
The Texas Madrone is yet another beautiful and desirable tree, but of course if your business is in the cattle industry, then maybe not so much. Like most nurse plants, it would mean that Ashe Juniper probably also provides a symbiotic relationship through the mycorrhizal fungal network. Plau like most nurse plants, they probably also provide an excellent source for hydraulic lift and redistribution of water from deep subsoil layers during the hotter Summer months to other plant's seedlings. And if the hydraulics work one direction, they probably have the ability to reverse that service downwards during the wetter season. Winter rainfall quite possibly may be further facilitated into deeper subsoil layers by these woody plants. Here's what Bob Harms says in his own words about the Junipers ability as a nurse plant as well as an important wildlife food & nesting source.
"I do not view the native junipers on our land as an undesirable invasive species, but rather as a plant that offers numerous benefits not generally appreciated, even beyond providing important nesting materials for the Golden-cheeked Warbler and a winter food source for birds and mammals. Many areas of our once overgrazed ranchland are gradually being restored thanks to the mulch from our junipers, surviving on bare calcareous slopes that otherwise would have suffered even greater erosion. The view of cedars replacing open fields of grass must be balanced against that of native grasses and numerous other plants gaining a foothold thanks to the mulch and shade that otherwise would be absent. And in fact, only overgrazed fields are at great risk of juniper invasion."
(Source: Bioscience - University of Texas)
Of course this doesn't mean that Ranchers and other land managers will buy into the wildlife and nurse plant importance of Junipers. Worldview and Political Ideology are strong religious dogmas which are strongly entrenched into the pysche of Juniper haters. Environmentalists aren't often much help either. Take the video below. While they do draw attention to a practice of bulldozer and chain ripping of Pinyon & Juniper habitat (something I also dislike), they then proceed to fingerpoint at a much hated opponent's Political Party as the enemy. Fact is the present administration is not at fault since this practice goes all the way back to the 1990s. The moment they blame game an opposing ideology, you soon realize it's not about protecting Nature, but rather scoring Brownie Points in the hopes of acquiring political power and hanging onto it. If you are a non-profit environmental organization, then the vicious attacks are used as ammunition for membership drive for the cause and monetary donations. As soon as the hysterical outrage has been milked for all it's financial worth, they move onto something else. Sadly, Nature still comes in last no matter who believes they won the fight. Watch this SUWA video and you soon realize it's never been about Nature as much as created hatred towards the present ruling authority.

Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project
What Eco-Activism fails to ever provide the Public with are real world viable solutions to real world needs for raw building materials and food. Demonizing other people whose worldview they hate and blaming them for what ails Nature is not the answer. Nobody responds favourably to in your face civil disobedient Activism. Seriously folks (NatureLovers), in any matter of controversy life that may involve you personally, have You ever responded favourably to someone else's point of view when they were in your face, used foul language, personal derogatory insults or violent attacks on your property or bodily harm ??? Of course not, but this method and playbook strategy is generally what we see today on the Nightly News reports. What they need to do instead is convince the landowners there's gotta be a better more responsible way of making money with land where Pinyons & Junipers also reside. On the other side of the coin, can any landowners consider the waste they have when utilizing prescribed burns after dragging a chain by Bulldozer ??? It's a waste of a valuable wood products resource and one that is basically free and pays for it's removal as opposed to just paying for it to be removed. Even if they do this themselves, there are major financial cost setbacks. Clearly appealing to their sensitivity to ecology and wildlife doesn't always work, so why not try the money angle approach as the better choice ? On that note, I'll now post a number of videos below which provide excellent explanation on how some inventive entrepreneurial people have done just that. The first videos simply go about the challenges many are facing with the increase of trees into their grassland ranges. One has an opinion of a Rancher from his prespective. Another provides an example of a small lumber mill business operator who deals specifically with Juniper wood products. Finally there is another business venture which back east actually logs large forests for wood stove pellets to be shipped all the way to the United Kingdom to service the pellet stove industry there which promotes itself as one of the eco-green solutions for alternative engery. Actually it's anything but sustainable eco-green.
The Quiet Invasion... Managing Juniper in Eastern Oregon Part 1

 The Quiet Invasion - Control or Prescribed Burns, part 2

The Quiet Invasion- The Rancher Perspective

Alternative Sustainable Use forWestern Juniper for Profit

Western Juniper for Lumber Mill Operations
Check out the link below 
Joseph's Juniper, Inc., Hines, Oregon 

Maybe sometime in the future when we take a weekend drive in the country on a backroad, instead of seeing a sign that says, "Prescribed Burn Ahead"

Maybe we'll start seeing more responsible signs that say something like, "Juniper Reclamation Ahead"
Good & Bad about the Wood Pellet Industry
Two articles from Daily Mail Online - (2014) & (2017) - Both self explanatory 
Daily Mail Online (2014)

Daily Mail Online (2017)

Daily Mail: Pure idiocy! How spending billions on subsidising an efficient coal-burning power station to burn wood is actually WORSE for the planet than before
The Lethal Dangers of Wood Pellets - Especially When Shipping Overseas (Sweden)
How Wood Pellets are Manufactured

Wood Pellet Stoves are becoming more and more popular. My brother has one. Having had a conventional wood burning stove on my property for 20+ years high up in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs, California and heating my house that way, I did save money, but it was also hard back breaking work doing Fall preparation and messy both outside and inside. But it seems reasonable that there could be a market for some pellet mills somewhere in the western states. Maybe a couple of Mills. I mean what a waste burning is and I'm not exactly on board with the "burn baby burn" people either. I just don't get this incessant love affair with fire. Yes, fire is natural, it occurs in nature. But not at the rates these guys want to shove down everyone's throat. 90% of wildfires today are human caused, the other 10% come from lightning or Volcanoes. I don't care that Indians (Native Americans) did it. They are and always have been human beings equal to everyone else on the planet. They used fire to exploit the environment for it's resouces. They used it for war. They used it to run buffalo (Bison) off cliffs, often more than they could use despite the narrative of taking only what they need. That's what being a human being is all about. Anyway, below is an interesting bit I've included with a guy who did his own energy calculations and money savings. Enjoy! 
Are Wood Pellet Stoves Energy Efficient???
Further Reading References
Important Note: I don't endorse any of these activist non-profit sites. They do provide some interesting info, but support, follow and donate at your own risk.