Posted in | News | Climate Change

Highly Scalable and Powerful Route to Sequester Greenhouse Gas

According to new research by scientists at the University of Stirling, growing edible mushrooms along with trees can provide a useful food source for millions of people while capturing carbon and reducing the effects of climate change.

Highly Scalable and Powerful Route to Sequester Greenhouse Gas
Professor Alistair Jump and Professor Paul Thomas. Image Credit: University of Stirling.

Not only does the approach lower the need for deforestation to clear the way for crops, but it also encourages tree planting.

The research was published in PNAS (The Proceedings of the National Academy PNAS of Sciences), the prestigious journal of The National Academy of Sciences, by Paul Thomas, Honorary Professor at the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences (NAS).

Professor Thomas spent two years gathering and analyzing data from published sources in collaboration with Professor Alistair Jump, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

There is currently a major global issue of land-use conflict between forestry and food production, and as an outcome, net forest area loss remains high, at approximately 4.7 million hectares per year, according to data from 2010 to 2020. Demand for agricultural land is the primary driver of global deforestation, and this trend is expected to worsen.

According to Professor Thomas’ research, cultivating edible ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) in forests can sequester up to 12.8 tonnes of carbon per hectare annually while also providing a nutritious food source for nearly 19 million people.

We looked at the emerging field of mycoforestry, where fungi that grow in symbiosis with living trees are used to create a food crop from new tree plantings, and we found that production of fungi using this system can lead to a very significant sequestration of greenhouse gas.

Paul Thomas, Honorary Professor, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling

This is a huge benefit which means that by producing this food we can actively help mitigate climate change. When we compared this to other major food groups, this is the only one that would result in such benefits—all other major food categories lead to greenhouse gas emissions during production,” notes Paul Thomas.

We calculate that if this system was combined with current forest activities, the food production levels could be huge. If it had been used in forestry that has taken place during the last ten years, we could have produced enough food to feed 18.9 million people annually. For China alone, their forestry activity for the last ten years could have put in place a food production system capable of enough calorific output to feed 4.6 million people annually.

Paul Thomas, Honorary Professor, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling

Emerging Technology

Professor Thomas said the technology is developing and so much more remains to be improved to realize these benefits. He has encouraged researchers to join the field and has requested assistance from relevant agencies.

This food production system is highly scalable, realistic and a potentially powerful route to sequester greenhouse gas. It would help with biodiversity and conservation globally, triggering rural socio-economic development and providing an incentive for increased tree planting rates with all the associated benefits that brings.

Paul Thomas, Honorary Professor, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling

Journal Reference:

Thomas, P. W. & Jump, A. S. (2023) Edible fungi crops through mycoforestry, potential for carbon negative food production and mitigation of food and forestry conflicts. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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