Fungi in the Canyon
When taking a stroll through the canyon, especially after a rainy day, you might catch a glimpse of mushrooms poking their heads up through the soil. While they may look small, mushrooms and fungi are actually the small parts of a much larger organism that is essential to the health of the ecosystem.Fungi are decomposers, meaning they help to break down organic matter back into soil, so if there were no fungi, the ground would be covered in dead plants and animals that would never decompose. But fungi have another vital role within the ecosystem. The ground you are standing on right now is chock full of tiny strands of mycelium called hyphae that connect to every plant in the canyon, forming what is called a mycorrhizal network. These mycorrhizal networks allow plants to communicate with each other and even transfer resources, including water, carbon, and nitrogen, between plants. (Simard et al. 2009) This is one of the reasons why a sapling growing on the forest floor floor is able to grow even with limited sunlight reaching the forest floor - they are connected to a forest wide network that helps them to grow. Early canyon days were mainly focused on renovating the canyon for recreational purposes rather than restoration. This involved removing decomposing logs and debris and setting bonfires. This caused a lot of damage to the mycorrhizal networks in the canyon, making for much less fertile soil and a less stable ecosystem. When the focus of canyon maintenance shifted to restoration, the roots of new saplings were dipped in a mycorrhizal bath in order to help repair the networks in the soil and also allow the saplings to absorb more resources from their surroundings. So though you may not see mushrooms every time you walk through the canyon, they are always all around you!
Teste, F.P., Simard, S.W., Durall, D.M., Guy, R.D., Jones, M.D. and Schoonmaker, A.L. (2009),
Access to mycorrhizal networks and roots of trees: importance for seedling survival and resource
transfer. Ecology, 90: 2808-2822. https://doi.org/10.1890/08-1884.1