Italy Expedition + One Year Of SPUN!

This November marks one year since SPUN’s inception, when we launched the mission to Protect The Underground. Here are some key updates since the last newsletter.

The SPUN Team
November 15, 2022
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Field notes

Italy expedition

Located in a key climatic position on the Mediterranean, Italy is a hotspot of marine and terrestrial biodiversity. Our aim was to begin sampling the mycorrhizal fungal communities in the Apennine and Apuane mountains of northern Italy, and the Val d'Ala in the Italian western Alps. These ranges are home to some of the most wild, intact montane ecosystems in Europe, hosting an high number of endemic plant and animal species with high conservation priorities.

Italy has a rich history of mycological research. For this expedition, we collaborated with Dr. Matteo Chialva, Dr. Luisa Lanfranco and Dr. Paola Bonfante from Università di Torino, an institution with a long tradition of studying mycorrhizal symbioses (Bonfante 2018 New Phytologist https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15397).

The landscapes were dramatic, and covered many different types of ecosystems, including grasslands, ancient chestnut groves, pine forests, and young soils around high-altitude lakes.

But the expedition became a race against time. In the summer of 2022, Italy experienced its worst drought in 70 years. Days before we arrived in Italy a glacier just north of where we were sampling in Apennine collapsed. Some regions were considering declaring a state of emergency because water levels were so low. As we slept at Rifugio Gastaldi, a mountain refuge at 2600 m, we could hear glaciers crumbling on all sides around us.

The effect of drought on underground ecosystems is not well understood, but without water, many mycorrhizal fungi have difficulty surviving. The riverbeds of Northern Italy have begun to go dry for many months at a time. As high temperatures and extreme weather more frequent, it is important to identify which fungi can tolerate drought.  We sampled soils under oaks, beeches, pines and chestnuts — some in landscapes that were still smoldering from recent forest fires. These data will help us understand how underground ecosystems are responding to climate change.

Photos: Seth Carnill

Greenroofs in Utrecht, Netherlands

In July 2022, SPUN worked together with Dr. Bala Chaudhary and Liam Nokes from Dartmouth College and a special guest Cristian Moreno from Fungi Foundation, to collect fungi from roots and soils from host plants growing on greenroofs around Utrecht, Netherlands and sequence their DNA. The aim is to understand how cities can be better designed to support the fungal biodiversity that sustains our global ecosystems. The SPUN team will focus on mapping the mycorrhizal diversity across Utrecht.


Underground Explorers Program

We finished the application cycle for our first round of the Underground Explorers Program. Researchers from over 50 different countries applied to sample understudied regions of mycorrhizal biodiversity. More details to come.


SPUN in the news

New York Times -  "Unearthing the Secret Superpowers of Fungus"

Público: "Microbioma: a biodiversidade invisível dos solos também está ameaçada"

El Tiempo: ¿Hongos, una alternativa contra el cambio climático?

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Podcast: A 'fungi first' approach to climate change

TIME100 Next

Underground networks are in the global spotlight! Our executive director, Toby Kiers was included on TIME Magazine’s 2022 100 Next list, which highlights leaders and innovators to watch.


On our radar

Papers we’re reading

Nature microbiologyDefending Earth’s terrestrial microbiome“- An analysis of 80 experiments shows that native soil microbiome restoration can accelerate plant biomass production by 64% on average, across ecosystems.

MDPI “What Do the First 597 Global Fungal Red List Assessments Tell Us about the Threat Status of Fungi?” - Until 2015, fungi were nearly absent on the IUCN Red List, and recent efforts have led to a significant increase in the number of fungal assessments. The 597 species of fungi published in the 2022-1 IUCN Red List update are the basis for the first global review of the extinction risk of fungi and the threats they face.

Global Change Biology “The fall of the summer truffle: Recurring hot, dry summers result in declining fruitbody production of Tuber aestivum in Central Europe” - By using linear mixed effects and machine learning algorithms on an extensive, citizen-scientist generated dataset, researchers find that the Burgundy truffle is more sensitive to summer drought than would be expected from the breadth of its species' climatic niche.

Nature Ecology & Evolution “Anti-racist interventions to transform ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments” - A toolkit of evidence-based interventions for academic ecology, evolution, and conservation biology departments to foster anti-racism in three areas: in the classroom; within research laboratories; and department wide.

Upcoming conferences

Global Soil Biodiversity Conference
13-15 March, 2023, Dublin, Ireland

South American Mycorrhizal Research Network
24 August - 2 September, 2023, Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia


Field work

Are you interested in participating in fungal research? Many researchers are currently running projects in diverse fields of environmental mycology. Check them out on our Associates Page.

Meanwhile, we're focusing on developing our Underground Explorers Program to support local communities/researchers in underground expeditions.

Art from the underground

Using her flatbed scanner as a camera, Melinda Hurst Frye captures images of the underground in a new way.

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