Autumn Science Lecture 2022: More than a mushroom: how fungi shape our world

An Autumn Science Lecture by Professor Katie Field

Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum's Autumn Science Lectures are back for 2022. This year we have five, free online lectures with expert speakers exploring the world of plant microbe interactions.


Our third lecture of the series is with Professor Katie Field, Professor of Plant-Soil Processes at the University of Sheffield. Her research spans 500 million years of land plant evolution, focusing on the interactions between plants and the soil around them, including the myriad of microorganisms that inhabit the below-ground environment. In particular, Katie is interested in the role of soil fungi in plant nutrition in modern and ancient ecosystems, including the role of soil fungi in helping plants get a foothold on land when they started making the transition from an aquatic to terrestrial existence in the Early Devonian. Katie’s research also seeks to improve sustainability in agriculture through the potential exploitation of soil microorganisms to improve crop nutrition and reduce chemical inputs. 

Katie's talk is entitled 'More than a mushroom: how fungi shape our world' and explores our evolving world.

500 million years ago, Earth looked very difference to how it does today. Without land plants, the continents were barren with only a biocrust covering the surfaces. When the first plants made landfall onto Earth’s barren continental landmasses around 450-500 million years ago, they did so with the help of microscopic filamentous fungi. These fungi helped those earliest plants access the nutrients they needed from rocks, allowing them to flourish on the land surface. Since then, fungi have played a fundamental part in sculpting Earth’s landscapes, ecosystems and even global climate through their decomposing and nutrient cycling activities and through their intimate and extensive partnerships with plant roots. Today, there are nearly 150,000 species within the Kingdom Fungi that we know about, with many, many more yet to be discovered.  As such, there is much that remains to be revealed about the roles and significance of fungi in global ecosystems, both in the past and their potential for the future with great opportunities to exploit the powers of fungi to improve sustainability, from carbon capture in soils to improving future food security in a changing climate. This talk will explore the past, present and potential future roles of fungi in Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems, and why we should consider fungi as being very much more than just mushrooms.  

The Autumn Science Lecture Series 2022 runs every other Thursday from 6 October to 1 December 2022. All lectures will be hosted online and are free to attend.

Upcoming speakers include:

17th November - Dr Jill Kowal, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew - 'Understanding mycorrhizal fungi and their functional role to facilitate healthy soils and ecologically sustainable gardens'

1st December - Dr Mark Spencer, forensic botanist - 'It's not all love, peace and harmony; the deadly world of plant/fungal interactions'