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Groundhog Day: February 2

Nifa Author
Rachel Dotson, Public Affairs Specialist (Social Media)

Whether you tune in to see if Phil sees his shadow or not, check out how USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded research is helping rodents and their connection to timber sustainability.

Tiniest Woodland Animals Play Critical Role in Keeping Forests Healthy

Robust forest growth and regeneration are critical to ensuring economic sustainability of New Hampshire's timber industry, and it is the smallest of woodland animals that play an essential role in keeping forests healthy and thriving, according to new research conducted at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. Here’s how: A lead researcher of the experiment station-funded project, Ryan Stephens, explained that in New England, all trees form a mutually beneficial relationship with either arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) or ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi, which produce fruiting bodies that occur below ground (truffles) or above ground on the forest floor (mushrooms). 

These fungi colonize plant roots and increase nutrient and water uptake of trees. In exchange, trees provide mycorrhizal fungi with sugars. Many tree seedling require colonization by mycorrhizal fungi for survival and growth. However, following timber harvests, fungal diversity is reduced when host trees die. Researchers have found that small mammals such as rodents and shrews were adept at distributing mycorrhizal fungi, with some mammals disbursing AM fungi and other mammals distributing ECM fungi. This dispersal is particularly important as trees regenerate following disturbances such as timber harvests. Learn more.

Take a look at more NIFA-funded research supporting more and better markets:

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