In this article we discuss the possible significance of biological processes, and of fungi in particular, in weathering of minerals. We consider biological activity to be a significant driver of mineral weathering in forest ecosystems. In these environments fungi play key roles in organic matter decomposition, uptake, transfer and cycling of organic and inorganic nutrients, biogenic mineral formation, as well as transformation and accumulation of metals. The ability of lichens, mutualistic symbioses between fungi and photobionts such as algae or cyanobacteria, to weather minerals is well documented. The role of mycorrhizal fungi forming symbioses with forest trees is less well understood, but the mineral horizons of boreal forests are intensively colonised by mycorrhizal mycelia which transfer protons and organic metabolites derived from plant photosynthates to mineral surfaces, resulting in mineral dissolution and mobilisation and redistribution of anionic nutrients and metal cations. The mycorrhizal mycelia, in turn provide efficient systems for the uptake and direct transport of mobilised essential nutrients to their host plants which are large sinks. Since almost all (99.99 %) non-suberised lateral plant roots involved in nutrient uptake are covered by ectomycorrhizal fungi, most of this exchange of metabolites must take place through the plant—fungus interface. This idea is still consistent with a linear relationship between soil mineral surface area and weathering rate since the mycelia that emanate from the tree roots will have a larger area of contact with minerals if the mineral surface area is higher. Although empirical models based on bulk soil solution chemistry may fit field data, we argue that biological processes make an important contribution to mineral weathering and that a more detailed mechanistic understanding of these must be developed in order to predict responses to environmental changes and anthropogenic impact.
Finlay, R., Wallander, H., Smits, M., Holmstrom, S., Van Hees, P., Lian, B., Rosling, A. (2009). The role of fungi in biogenic weathering in boreal forest soils. Fungal Biology Reviews: 23; p101-106.
This opinion article discusses in detail mycorrhizal fungi in forest soils and how they influence soil biogeochemical cycling. The article is a little bit old, but it’s emphasis on fungi is what interests me the most. The climax of the article has a figure organizing both symbiotic (mycorrhizal) and saprotrophic fungi in relation to their contributions to soil weathering rate. The figure helps me fit fungus into the larger puzzle of biogeochemical cycling we’ve discussed in class.