J. Anthony Seliskar
Funga's Frequently Asked Questions
Updated: Feb 9
What's the right way to pronounce 'fungi'?
This is by far one of the most common questions we get from partners and supporters! The answer is: there is no one pronunciation that is definitively recognized as "right". Fungal experts and researchers of all stripes have adopted different approaches. Some say the most common "fun-guy", some say "fun-ji" (this is what our team uses!), and some even say "fun-gee" or “fung-jee”.
Then what is Funga?
The term that is our namesake (pronounced fun-gah) comes from the colloquial summation of biological life "flora, fauna, funga". "Flora and fauna" refer to all plants and animals that inhabit an ecosystem or landscape. These terms originate from Latin and have been used for centuries. "Funga" was introduced by scientific and conservation communities fairly recently. The intent is to emphasize that fungi are just as essential to the natural world and environmental conservation efforts, as plants and animals (flora and fauna).
How does Funga work?
Funga surveys hundreds of forests to understand (1) which fungi live in the forest and (2) the growth and health of the forest. By doing so, we can identify forest fungal communities linked to forest health. We use this information to identify wild fungal communities that can both accelerate tree growth, and enhance fungal biodiversity across the forest landscape. Using the recommendations from this analysis, we inoculate tree seedlings with fungal communities at time of tree planting. Finally, we quantify how much additional carbon was removed as a result of forest microbiome restoration, compared to business as usual forestry activity. We sell these carbon dioxide removal outcomes to corporate partners working to build responsible net-zero strategies. In addition to creating carbon removal credits, our inoculations also increase yield for the landowner, so each project creates a benefit for both the company and its landowning partners. Please see our Funga Tech Explained blog post for a much deeper explanation!
How did you choose the US loblolly pine forestry market as your first focus area?
We love the loblolly pine forestry market for many reasons!
Loblolly pine is a native tree species to the southeast US. This means there is a lot of native fungal biodiversity to work with to create growth and carbon removal outcomes.
The loblolly pine footprint is huge - over 30 million acres (12.1 million hectares), putting it up there with other major US agricultural commodities. This also means there is a huge forestry infrastructure we can leverage, allowing us to scale our approach quickly.
We can work with forest landowners already engaged in the process of forestry. This means we put no additional pressure on land use. We make every acre being used for forest agriculture more productive.
We work with forestry professionals across the southeast, allowing us to support agricultural jobs in rural communities where most forestry occurs.
There is huge interest in architecture to move away from high emissions building materials like concrete and steel, and towards wood and “mass timber”. Funga helps support this by increasing the productivity of forest agriculture, and in the process, making the practice of forestry more regenerative.
That said, our approach has the potential to generalize to other managed ecosystems, as well as forest restoration. These first years we’re focused on proving our approach in the southeast US. We’ve set our sights on expanding to restoration and beyond once we’ve dialed in our process in the southeast, modifying the approach slightly to fit these new use cases.
Funga uses aboveground measurement to calculate additional carbon storage, but what about soil carbon?
Right now, it is incredibly straightforward to calculate carbon additionality by monitoring wood volume. While we know that carbon is also stored in the soil, quantifying the belowground carbon is far more complex, and science is still in the process of developing reliable methods to do this. For now, we're pretty pumped about the results we get from wood volume alone, and it's exciting to think that even more carbon (of some still-mysterious amount) is also accruing, in addition to what we can rigorously measure and verify.
But forestry trees are harvested, is all that additional carbon lost when the tree is cut down?
Actually, no! Within loblolly pine forestry, about 40% of all the additional carbon enters long-lived harvested wood products with >100 year lifetimes. Think wood used to build houses, furniture, etc. Currently, we only consider this 40% subset of the additional tree biomass as “additional”, and this is how we generate durable, nature based carbon removal. This additional wood biomass also has the potential to displace other building materials like concrete and steel, as well as their associated high emissions. Below is a graphic of the split of where that additionality goes.
If we don’t stop emitting CO2 to the atmosphere, this carbon removal won’t matter. Who cares? Isn’t this a distraction?
We cannot suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Hard stop. Responsible net zero targets set by corporations and governments focus on reducing emissions, first and foremost. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made clear that staying within key climate boundaries will require these drastic emissions cuts as well as active removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if we are to stay below key climate warming tipping points. Engineered solutions alone are not ready to meet the speed and scale of climate intervention required by 2030, 2050, and beyond. That is why we must recognize the value of ready-to-scale Nature Based Solutions (NBS) in combination with Engineered solutions.
What about other carbon removal solutions? Direct air capture, biochar, enhance rock weathering? Should we be focused on those solutions instead?
This isn’t an “either-or” problem, it’s a “yes, and”, a we’ll-take-every-solution-we-can-get problem. No single carbon removal technology is likely to deliver the amount of carbon removal the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we need by 2050. We need to scale all of these solutions. Nature based carbon removal strategies, like Funga’s, may be particularly powerful because they are relatively cheap compared to newer technology, and ready to scale today.
Why hasn’t this been done before? Can’t I buy mycorrhizal inoculants online?
Despite explosive innovation in regenerative food agriculture, there is little analogous effort in forestry. You can purchase a packet of mycorrhizal fungi online today, but academic research shows most existing commercial fungal inoculants are dead on arrival, and if they aren’t dead, they generally don’t affect tree growth very much in the field. There was a boom of interest fungal inoculant development in the 1980s and 90s, but this quickly disappeared as forest scientists couldn’t reliably use these products to put up gains in the forest.
Funga’s approach is entirely different. Rather than focusing on a handful of species and strains that are then applied everywhere, we use huge datasets to identify which fungal communities are best suited to a particular environment. Second, our analyses allow us to identify and focus on combinations of soil fungi that we can demonstrate are significantly correlated with forest productivity and carbon capture outcomes. Finally, we use whole communities, analogous to approaches taken in human gut microbiome therapy. This is only possible thanks to DNA sequencing technology developed in the 2000’s and 2010’s, and that has only recently come down in cost enough to scale in the past few years.
The most powerful tool to heal nature is nature itself. Trees are nature's direct air capture, and forests are an existing, ready-to-scale solution to the climate crisis. U.S. forests alone store 217 gigatons of CO2 (Congressional Research Service, R46313). Our eureka moment: what if we made this natural system faster and more efficient? When we’re talking about improving the efficiency of a carbon-capturing mechanism that already exists on such a massive scale, even a 1% improvement would represent a huge achievement for carbon capture goals. Our technology allows us to re-wild soils with native, biodiverse fungi, many of which have long been absent in commercial forestry. These fungi were lost after repeated clearcuts, as well as exposure to huge doses of fertilizer and fungicides. Our goal is to reintroduce long absent fungal biodiversity back into these working forest landscapes, creating a positive outcome for biodiversity, and positive outcome for climate mitigation.