Microbes run the world

Antarctic scientist Dana Bergstrom sends me an article by Gabriel Popkin, just published in Quanta magazine on August 27, that challenges “the gauzy view” that symbiotic relationships are the norm in the world of plants: Soil’s Microbial Market Shows the Ruthless Side of Forests.

And the animation, Undergound Market, “…by Toby Kiers and the artist Niels Hoebers [that] depicts the “underground market” for phosphorus and other exchanged nutrients controlled by networks of soil fungi growing around plant roots”.

“…When plants crept onto land some 500 million years ago, microbes were waiting. Fungi and bacteria struck up relationships with their new neighbors. Plants, after all, could do something most microbes could not: harness solar energy to split apart atmospheric carbon dioxide and construct energy-rich sugars and fats from the pieces. The microbes, in turn, had mastered the art of freeing up the nutrients that plants needed from the soil — phosphorus especially, but also nitrogen; there is evidence that microbes help plants gain access to water as well. Some 80 percent or more of today’s land plants form partnerships with fungi; still other plants partner with bacteria. If the soil were somehow purged of its microbes, the plant and animal worlds would take a big hit. The views of the great naturalist E.O. Wilson notwithstanding, it’s microbes, not insects, that run the world.”