Fungi grow better if you play sounds to them - and it could help scientists restore nature

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The study could have big implications for nature restoration, as well as the food and composting industries

Much like humans are energised by dance music, new research suggests tiny fungi get a kick out of having sounds played for them - even boosting their growth.

An upcoming new study, from Australia's Flinders University, has found that playing sounds in a controlled environment rapidly accelerated soil fungi growth. These microbes both contribute to plant growth and break down nutrients in the soil, and researchers say the discovery showcases how "eco-acoustics" could be used to help regenerate native ecosystems - as well as helping boost the food production and composting industries.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The team buried teabags in soundproof boxes to enable fungi to grow as it broke down the organic matter. Some were exposed to ‘loud’ high-pitched monotone soundwaves of 80 decibels for up to eight hours a day, over two weeks. Teabags in the control group were exposed to just 30 decibels of noise, and researchers noticed they produced less fungal growth.

There was little change to their total biomass, whereas the teabags which were played louder noises gained about 0.5 grams. The spore activity of beneficial fungus Trichoderma harzianum also increased about fivefold compared to control samples, when exposed to soundwaves in Petri dishes for just five days.

The fungi played louder sounds in the study  increased in biomass (NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)The fungi played louder sounds in the study  increased in biomass (NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)
The fungi played louder sounds in the study increased in biomass (NationalWorld/Adobe Stock) | NationalWorld/Adobe Stock

“More than 75% of the world’s soils are degraded, so we need to take radical steps to reverse the trend and start restoring biodiversity,” says microbial ecologist Dr Jake Robinson. “This research surprised us when one common plant growth-promoting fungi increased its initial number of spore cells biomass by almost five times compared to the control group where soundwaves were at ambient levels."

Their study also highlighted the importance of soundscapes in nature, he said. "We can now listen to the sounds that tiny animals as an indicator of soil health, but we might also be able to apply sound to improve soil health.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is focused on preventing, halting and reversing the loss of the world's nature – for the climate, people, and nature itself. Study co-author Martin Breed said their studies into restoration ecology could help pave the way for improving how the world regrows its native plants - even helping create optimal conditions for the reintroduction of lost species.

“Our research into the potential of stimulating soil microbial activity harnesses other innovative possibilities to help restore nature,” he said. After revegetation, it can take decades for soil microbes to fully recover, so the potential to speed up the process was an exciting development.

Christian Cando-Dumancela, another co-author of the study, added: “It might be that microbes, including fungi, can convert the soundwave energy into an electrical charge, which stimulates their activity. Our study lays the foundations for some exciting future research.”

Fungi, and how they respond to sound waves and vibrations, has been the subject of a fair amount of research in the past. In the UK, some commercial mushroom growers even play music to their mushrooms as they grow.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.