26 November 2015 –Evolva (SIX: EVE) has made a small donation to support fungi research in the Lambir Hills National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Because of the importance of fungi, known as the “microbiome of the forest”, insights from this research could prove useful for the conservation of biodiversity in rainforests around the world.
The research is led by Stanford University assistant professor of biology Kabir Peay, who is investigating how interactions with fungal root symbionts and pathogens controls the diversity and habitat associations of trees in the rainforests of Borneo. Peay’s Malaysian research partners include Sarawak Forest Research Corp, Forest Department Sarawak, and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. This is the first disbursement of sums from the program that Evolva established as part of its commitment to the environment and the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Most conservation of biodiversity efforts focused on ‘’high profile’’ plants and animals. But tropical fungi are an even greater storehouse of biological diversity. Tropical forests are one of Earth’s biodiversity hotspots. But accurately characterizing tropical biodiversity, and the ecological and evolutionary processes that generate it, has been a longstanding challenge for biologists.
Because the health and nutrition of many rainforest trees depends on fungi, understanding the ecology of fungal communities could prove critical to future restoration efforts. Only by characterizing these unseen dimensions of biodiversity can we help to conserve these forests for future generations.
“Our research has shown that fungal diversity is significantly greater than that of the trees or animals they coexist with,” Peay says. “Tropical rainforests are home to species of fungi found nowhere else on the planet. I focus primarily on fungi because of their large impacts on the health and nutrition of tropical tree species.”
In Borneo, the dominant trees form a root symbiosis with soil fungi known as ectomycorrhizae, which make them unique among the world’s rainforest biomes. These ectomycorrhizal fungi are responsible for the majority of plant nutrient uptake, and in return receive a large fraction of tree photosynthate. No ectomycorrhizal fungi, no forest biodiversity. Until very recently, the microbial dimensions of tropical biodiversity of these fungi were virtually unknown and unexplored.
In the field, Peay and his lab members collect samples of mushrooms in the roots and soils where these fungi live. The samples are then identified and analysed using advanced DNA sequencing techniques to determine their evolutionary connection to and symbiotic relationship with their surroundings.
“It’s hard to appreciate what you don’t know even exists,” Peay added. “And fungi, bacteria and insects are effectively invisible to most people. But, I have personally noticed that people begin to care about conservation as they start to understand the ecosystems around them. Ultimately I think this type of research can help create appreciation for biodiversity and a desire to conserve it.”
As part of our commitment to the environment and the CBD, Evolva donates 1% of product-derived revenues to support the conservation of biodiversity and science education in developing countries; we will share details about the recipient of our science education donation, shortly. We recognise that at a small company, 1% of revenues can be a small sum. But, it’s a start and it will get bigger in the years to come.
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