Fungal Remediation & Restoration 101
Fungi are the silent stewards of the forest, maintaining and improving the vitality of ecosystems around the world. Mycorrhizal fungi transform, manage and channel nutrients among the plants and microbes in the forest soil and “clean,” strengthen, and aerate the soil in the process. The decomposing fungi transform organic matter into fresh healthy soil, contributing to the carbon and nitrogen cycles of the earth and creating life out of death in the process.
When humans take advantage of these natural processes in an intentional and directed fashion the practice applied is referred to fungal remediation and restoration.
Fungal restoration: The intentional application of fungi to build, stabilize, and “clean” the soil in healthy or damaged ecosystems and to enable forests to rapidly regenerate following a clear cut or other destructive practice. Also known as mycorestoration.
Fungal remediation: The application of fungi to reduce or eliminate chemical and biological contaminants from polluted systems. Also known as mycoremediation or mycorenewal.
Fungal restoration can be enacted in numerous ways, ultimately limited by fungal species available, environmental conditions, and the creativity of the cultivator. Some examples of fungal restoration installation strategies include:
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating soils with native mycorrhizal fungi to stabilize and strengthen soil structure and ecology. Endomycorrhizal (Arbuscular Mycorrhizal) fungi are easy to cultivate for this purpose.
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating soils with native mycorrhizal fungi to draw out heavy metals from the soil. Many ectomycorrhizal fungi have been shown to channel toxic heavy metals out of the soil and concentrate them into their fruitbodies for disposal or dispersement by animals and insects. This incredible function can be utilized to draw out arsenic, mercury, lead, radioactive cesium, and copper from contaminated sites.
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating organic matter with native decomposing fungi to create top soil in clear cut and eroded areas.
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating organic matter with native decomposing fungi to increase species diversity and provide fodder for animals and insects.
Fungal remediation can also be utilized in many ways. A wide number of fungal species (mainly decomposing fungi) have shown incredible abilities to degrade a growing list of persistent and toxic industrial waste products and chemical pollutants. Notable examples include many petroleum based products (including herbicides and fossil fuels), dioxins, DDT, TNT, PCBs, chemical dyes, PAHs, and more. The fungi essentially use their natural digestive abilities and enzymes to readily degrade these compounds, transforming these complex hydrocarbons into simple carbohydrates which the fungi then consume and metabolize with no apparent detrimental effect. Wow! In a similar fashion, many fungi can also trap and digest harmful microorganisms (e.g. E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus) to reduce concentrations of these pathogens in polluted water systems. Some examples of fungal remediation installation strategies include:
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating polluted organic matter with native decomposing fungi to degrade harmful compounds and leave behind soil or other debris that is qualitatively and quantitatively cleaner and healthier.
- Introducing mycelial networks into polluted water systems to filter out silt, heavy metals, and biological contaminants. For example, if a straw bale or wood filled burlap sack that has been fully consumed by mycelium is submerged in a contaminated water way, the mycelium can work as a sieve to trap some of the passing heavy metal or biological hazards and there after degrade them as it does on land. This technique of fungal filtration is one of the most accessible to the DIY remediator as it is one of the easier techniques to implement.
These examples barely scratch the surface of approachable methods to working with fungi for healing damaged landscapes. The field of fungal remediation and restoration are central to the Radical Mycology project and something we feel will be one of the most important skills to be developed in coming years by informed and equipped citizen scientists.
Cultivating Fungi for Remediation
Radical Mycology is pleased to share our free publication and video on simple, cheap, and easy methods of cultivating large quantities of fungi for remediation purposes. Entitled Mushroom Cultivation for Remediation, this zine/booklet can be found here, and its accompanying 3-part video series can be found here.