Nature isn’t always as you expect. There are lots of connections in the environment, but sometimes those connections are a surprise. An underground organism can influence the weather, a desert can feed a rainforest, soil can form a hundred feet in the air, and a jellyfish can profit from photosynthesis. Sometimes nature is predictable, but sometimes it catches us by surprise. So what are some unexpected connections in nature? Let’s get into it!
A mushroom can make it rain. So let's take a step back here and break it down. So rain is formed when water droplets condense and merge together until they become too heavy for the rising air to hold them up. These water droplets need some kind of surface to form on, like the condensation on a cold drink. Usually those particles are dust and other inorganic materials that are brushed up into the air. Now let's bring in the mushrooms, mushrooms reproduce by sending off spores which are like primitive seeds that are so small they are carried away by the wind. Ideally these spores will be deposited somewhere downwind in the ground to begin growing, but just like the dust, these mushroom spores can be lifted up into the atmosphere and become the seeds for water droplets and clouds to form on. Once the water droplets get big enough, the rain can fall down to the ground carrying the spores along with them. What is even more impressive about this is that mushrooms and their spores need water to facilitate their growth and lifecycle, so their spores are literally going up to the skies and bringing the water down with them.
The Sahara desert in Northern Africa fertilizes the Amazon Rainforest in South America. The Sahara wasn’t always a desert. It used to be covered in water teaming with life. The exoskeletons of those ancient invertebrates, filled with phosphorus, have become incorporated into the sea of sand. When the wind picks up those tiny particles, some of it is carried across the Atlantic, and is then deposited in the Amazon Rainforest. Phosphorus is an important ingredient in the process of photosynthesis, because it captures the energy from the separation of water molecules into new molecules called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. Lots of phosphorus is washed away in run off from the heavy rains in the rainforest, so this Saharan fertilizer helps keep the plants strong and healthy.
Speaking of soil, most plants need healthy soil in order to obtain the important nutrients that they need to grow properly. Soil is a composition of minerals and organic material that has broken down over time. Soil formation begins with the erosion of rocks. Then pioneer species like lichens take advantage of the new space. As they grow and die, their decomposing bodies are broken down and turn into soil. Eventually, the plants can take root, further accelerating the composting of organic material into the soil. But recent studies have found that these soils aren’t always in the ground. The canopies of large trees can also catch organic material like leaves, which compost down and turn into soil. This turns into vertical growing space that can be up to 100ft (30m) high!
There is also a Jellyfish that can photosynthesize. We’ll not exactly. In Palau, there is a lake called Jellyfish lake, which is filled with up to 5 million individuals of a subspecies of Golden Jellyfish called Mastigias papua etpisoni. What makes these jellyfish so unique is that they have a symbiotic relationship with an algae, called dinoflagellates, that live in their bodies. The jellyfish move around the lake to different sunny spots and in return, are given some of the sugar resources created through the algae’s photosynthesis. Together the two species survive together in their little secluded lake.
Everything is connected in nature. Sometimes those connections are obvious, like more sunlight leads to more plant photosynthesis, and sometimes they surprise us, like more sunlight leading to jellyfish getting more sugar from photosynthesis. Fungi can create rain, a desert can fertilize a forest an ocean away, and plants can grow in soil that is 100 ft (30 m) off the ground. We are always learning new and amazing facts about not only new species and phenomena in nature, but also gaining new perspectives about the parts of nature we are already familiar with.
Sahara - Amazon Fertilization