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National Tree Week 2022 celebrates #HiddenConnections: A view from Kew Gardens

Laura M. Suz, Research Leader in Mycology at Kew, says: “It’s hard not to feel a sense of wonder when walking through a forest, with its dense canopy above our heads, but we often forget about an equally exciting world full of activity but hidden from our sight, right beneath our feet. 

“Running deep and extending into the soil there is a network of hidden connections made by fungal filaments that allows trees to connect with one another through their roots, and to draw otherwise inaccessible nutrients and water from the soil that these fungi transfer to the trees in exchange for carbon. 

“These symbiotic connections between the roots of trees and these soil dwelling fungi, so-called mycorrhizas or fungus-roots, are essential for tree growth, nutrition and protection against pathogens, but also for carbon sequestration in soils. In fact, more carbon is drawn and locked in the soil through mycorrhizal partnerships with trees, than is found in the air or the above-ground parts of trees.

“Unfortunately, evidence from our research in forests in the UK and across Europe suggests that increasing atmospheric nitrogen pollution and environmental change are having a negative effect on mycorrhizal fungi, with impacts in tree mineral nutrition and potentially in carbon sequestration in soil. 

“This is why researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and partners are working closely together to better understand these relationship between trees and fungi, their resilience to change and potential recovery and what can be done to support our ecosystems in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

“Hopefully this year’s celebrations of National Tree Week and its theme of hidden connections will help to shed a light on the wonderful world of forests – not just above but also belowground.”

About National Tree Week:

National Tree Week, organised by The Tree Council and partners, brings together the conservation sector, volunteers and tree-lovers to plant thousands of trees and hedgerows to mark the start of the annual planting season. National Tree Week 2022 will take place from 26 November – 4 December 2022. This year’s theme is #HiddenConnections, celebrating trees as a connecting force of our world. Bringing all of us closer to nature and also revealing the fascinating connected world below ground, from complex root systems to mysterious mycorrhiza.

About Kew Science 
Kew Science is the driving force behind RBG Kew’s mission to understand and protect plants and fungi, for the well-being of people and the future of all life on Earth. Over 300 Kew scientists work with partners in more than 100 countries worldwide to halt biodiversity loss, uncover secrets of the natural world, and to conserve and restore the extraordinary diversity of plants and fungi. Kew’s Science Strategy 2021–2025 lays out five scientific priorities to aid these goals: research into the protection of biodiversity through Ecosystem Stewardship, understanding the variety and evolution of traits in plants and fungi through Trait Diversity and Function; digitising and sharing tools to analyse Kew’s scientific collections through Digital Revolution; using new technologies to speed up the naming and characterisation of plants through Accelerated Taxonomy; and cultivating new scientific and commercial partnerships in the UK and globally through Enhanced Partnerships. One of Kew’s greatest international collaborations is the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, which has to date stored more than 2.4 billion seeds of over 40,000 wild species of plants across the globe. In 2020, Kew scientists estimated in the State of the World’s Plants and Fungi report that 2 in 5 plants globally are threatened with extinction.

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