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Desert Diary


Too often, evolution is pictured as violent conflict. Yet, cooperation is widespread in nature and actively selected for. If two entities can work together for the benefit of both, everybody wins.

As social animals, we know this is true within species, but it occurs even between distantly related organisms. One obscure arrangement is between various fungi and plants. Plants absorb water and minerals through fine extensions of their roots called root hairs, but cannot take in enough for optimal growth by themselves. Commonly, an intimate association between a fungus and the roots forms.

The combination, called a mycorrhiza, benefits both. The fungus obtains such valuable materials as sugars and amino acids from the plant, while the plant is supplied with additional water and important minerals. So vital is the association to some plants that introductions to new areas may fail until a bit of the homeland soil is added. One possible moral? Take a bit of Chihuahuan Desert soil with you if you are forced to be transplanted into a strange land.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.