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The Conversation: A fierce battle is being fought in the soil beneath our feet – and the implications for global warming are huge

Published: June 6, 2024 6.26am CEST

As humanity continues to burn fossil fuels, the delicate balance of life on Earth is changing. That’s true of trees, many of which are growing faster as a result of increased carbon dioxide (CO₂) concentrations in our atmosphere.

But not all trees are responding in this way. In particular, eucalypts – Australia’s iconic forest trees – haven’t benefited from the increase in CO₂ as they were expected to.

Why not? Our new research, published today in Nature, shows it comes down to a below-ground battle for phosphorus, a mineral nutrient in soils that is essential for tree growth. The results suggest in some parts of the world, increased CO₂ means tiny bugs in the soil “hold onto” their phosphorus, making less available for trees.

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