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Satellite images reveal underground forest Fungi

by Pubali Mukherjee

Underground forest fungi have a mutually beneficial relationship with the forest canopy .They use the carbohydrates produced by the canopies during photosynthesis in exchange of the nutrients brought by them as  these fungi spread across hundreds of miles underground in search of nutrients .These fungi are called Micorrhizal fungi.Richard Phillips of Indianan University, Bloomington is of the opinion forest trees associate themselves with only two types of this particular species.Conservationists are of the opinion that studying these underground fungi can help them understand how these forest canopies might respond to the fast changing climate. A conventional method for mapping forest canopies and these fungi consumes ample time and the methods are exhaustive when it comes to large areas of the forest. Satellite imagery has been shedding lights on numerous secrets that our planet holds and so satellite imagery showed the path to study and map these fungi in a recent endeavor of the team led by Joshua Fisher of NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Pasadena, California and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).The team was able to detect the hidden network of these fungi from the satellite images of NASA.

Image courtesy: JPL NASA

Satellite Image shows the Mycorrhizal Fungi (white/Yellow) exchange nutrients for the carbon produced by these trees. (Image courtesy: Indiana University and JPL NASA)

Every species of tree has a specific spectral signature which distinguishes it from other species. In other words it reflects electromagnetic radiation within a specific range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Fisher’s group aimed at identifying any specific pattern change in the spectral signature between the canopies associated with the two species of the above mentioned fungi. Study area of the team consisted of four U.S Forests plots which were part of the Smithsonian Institution`s Forest Global earth Observatory. Satellite images of 130,000 tress of 77 different species were analyzed. Maps of these species along with associated fungi had been prepared earlier. Landsat 5 satellite data was used within a time span of 2008-2011.The fungal dominance area was delineated to analyzed any similarity or dissimilarity among the species associated with any one type of the fungi. Phenological differences were evident among the species associated with two types of fungi. Significant differences in peak of greenness, in shedding of leaves were observed in the regions dominated by these two fungi species. The results were fed to a statistical model to predict fungal dominance from canopy change data alone. The study gave reliable results for 77% of the images. This study can shed some light on the intriguing network of these underground fungi and their response to the impending Global climate change.


SATPALDA is a privately owned company and a leading provider of satellite imagery and GeoSpatial services to the user community. Established in 2002, SATPALDA has successfully completed wide range of photogrammetric and Remote Sensing Projects.

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