the facilitation of ecological communities using fungi

Paul Stamets experiment regarding the

facilitation of ecological communities using fungi

Helping the ecosystem through mushroom cultivation

In this article Paul Stamets outlines and describes an experiment conducted on essentially uninhabitable soil polluted with PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) found at a Washington State DOT storage facility.  One pile of polluted soil was treated with Oyster mushroom mycelium (Pleurotus ostreatus) and was compared to chemical and bacterial amendments.  After 4 weeks the pile was left with 5% residual PAH’s and a crop of gourmet mushrooms which had no trace of contamination.  Within the following 4 weeks the decaying mushrooms attracted flies, which attracted seed bearing birds.  The birds feasted and deposited the seeds in a convenient package of fertilizer.  Essentially a new ecosystem was produced from polluted soil and mushroom spawn.   The anatomy of these fungi naturally have a large surface area that secretes powerful enzymes that they naturally use to digest tough fibers.  This sets them up to be interesting test subjects.  They aren’t being manipulated in any way, besides the environment they propagate in.  The amazing quality of removing, digesting, and utilizing the polluting chemicals isn’t the only benefit either.  The fungi is facilitating an ecosystem.  This species attracts others with the energy its producing and in turn they attract others that inhabit the soil now that its been cleaned.  Paul Stamets states in His ted talk 6 ways mushrooms can save the world “These are gateway species, vanguard species that open the door for other biological communities”-paul stamets on oyster mushroom & other fungi. It seems that too infrequently the soil is seen for its living communities that are providing much of the sustenance for natural communities.  And propagating fungi into soil communities engorged with these pollutants and devoid of life will clean and introduce vital components required for life.   In the case of the Jericho research forest there wasn’t any facilitated introduction of the mycelium but there presence is an important part of those communities.  In a stark environment however like the WSDOT storage facility if it were to be abandoned and allowed to return to its natural state, the introduction of the fungi would be crucial to the sited resumption of normality.   It would be the key to early succession from its uninhabitable state.

Brendan Haynes

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