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V. Kokkoris, VU

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BOSTON, Massachusetts and AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (November 30, 2021)

Today, the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN) is announcing the largest-ever donation to map, conserve, and protect underground fungal networks, given by the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust. SPUN will use this funding to lead the first global exploration and mapping of underground fungal networks that play a critical role below the surface, sequestering carbon and moving nutrients across ecosystems.

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Jeremy Grantham, a climate advocate who has pledged 98 percent of his net worth to fighting climate change, says: “Just below our feet lies an invaluable ally in mitigating climate change – vast hidden fungal networks. Billions of tons of carbon dioxide flow annually from plants into fungal networks. And yet, these carbon sinks are poorly understood. In working to map and harness this threatened but vital resource for life on earth, the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks is pioneering a new chapter in global conservation.” 

Co-founded by Toby Kiers and Colin Averill, SPUN’s mission as a science-based initiative is to save trillions of kilometers of underground networks threatened by human activity and climate extremes, and utilize fungal networks to help sequester carbon, move nutrients, and protect ecosystem biodiversity. 

Currently fungal networks face an uncertain future. Their loss – driven by agricultural expansion, pollution, urbanization and deforestation – is largely undocumented and invisible. 

Network exploration is being guided by a team of prominent advisors including conservationist Jane Goodall, authors Michael Pollan, and Merlin Sheldrake, and founder of the Fungi Foundation, Giuliana Furci. Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, said: “This is an extremely important conservation project. An understanding of underground fungal networks is essential to our efforts to protect the soil, on which life depends, before it is too late.” 

SPUN is also announcing two members of its Governing Board today: Rose Marcario, former CEO of Patagonia and Mark Tercek, former CEO of the Nature Conservancy. When explaining his reasons for joining the SPUN Governing Board, Mark Tercek, explains: “Understanding underground ecosystems better is a big opportunity for biodiversity and climate initiatives. Fungal networks underpin life on Earth. If trees are the ‘lungs’ of the planet, fungal networks are the ‘circulatory systems.’  These networks are largely unexplored, yet remain one of the biggest untapped levers in science.”

Rose Marcario, SPUN Governing Board member, adds: “The destruction of fungal networks accelerates climate change, biodiversity loss, and interrupts global nutrient cycles. I’m proud to be part of SPUN’s governing board to protect these networks before we lose the opportunity to partner with fungi to revolutionize agriculture, forestry, and carbon capture.”

Using 10,000 observations from the GlobalFungi dataset, coupled with hundreds of layers of global environmental data, SPUN is using machine learning to predict the distribution of network biodiversity across the planet. SPUN will collect an additional 10,000 samples across ecosystems on all continents in the next 18 months to explore network biodiversity and carbon-sequestration hotspots. Together with striking new visualizations of nutrients flows inside networks, these maps will be used to identify high-priority sites with the potential to store more carbon and survive extreme climate events.  

SPUN will conduct its first sampling mission together with Fungi Foundation in April 2022, focused on network biodiversity hotspots, predicted to be in regions such as the highlands of Patagonia. SPUN will train and partner with researchers, activists, and local communities to collect samples, and protect and manage underground ecosystems.

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