Groeneveldlezing Liesje Mommer Merlin Sheldrake Groeneveld award 2022 Dear biodiversity lovers, dear nature conservationists [or: activists], dear scientists, artists and architects, dear Merlin, dear all, We are here to celebrate the book ‘Entangled life’ and it is great to see so many of you here. We, as human beings are entangled, although sometimes we tend to forget that, individual egos as we are. I believe that we are entangled – with each other and with other beings on this planet. In this personal reflection, I will share my thoughts, feelings and amazement on that topic. Many of them I got from working with soil-borne fungi as a scientist working belowground on plant roots which are so entangled with fungi. Reading Merlin Sheldrakes book helped me to find the words. I am deeply grateful for the effort you made to write the book, to make the book, to actually be the book. Working with fungi helped me to better understand who I am: more aligned with myself, my being, my mission for a nature-positive world. For you in the audience to understand that viewpoint, I will have to introduce myself a bit more. This is perhaps a bit impolite on a festive occasion for Merlin – my apologies. Wim van Gelder already mentioned that I work as a professor in Plant Ecology & Nature Conservation at Wageningen University, and that I am considered its ‘figurehead’ (boegbeeld) for biodiversity. I have to admit I feel very uncomfortable with that term. I will explain why, and how it relates to fungi. In the early years of my scientific career, biodiversity experiments in grasslands were ‘hot’, it was a lively field of research. But what is a biodiversity experiment really? In such experiments, scientists grow different plant communities – mostly grassland species – in plots that differ in plant species richness. So, in such experiments, there are many plots established as monocultures, but also 2-species mixtures, 4-species mixtures, even up to 60 species. Biomass is harvested by clipping, then dried, weighed and analysed as a proxy for ecosystem productivity. These experiments have consistently shown: biodiversity matters. Biodiversity improves productivity. Biodiversity enhances ecosystem functioning. I was attracted to this scientific energy – and decided to work in that research field. I had to find my own niche and decided to look where others did not. The standard was measuring aboveground, so I decided to go belowground, where half of the plant biomass is. I investigated rooting patterns of different plant species, and found that they did not really confirm the ecological theory the textbooks suggested in those days. Then, the soil was considered a box full of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus in particular - and plant roots were considered to just ‘sip’ them up. With my team, I set up experiments that demonstrated that root behaviour cannot be understood without explicitly considering the immense biodiversity in soil; without embracing the myriads of other organisms dwelling around the roots. In particular: soil-borne fungi – the symbiotic ones that form the wood-wide web; the saprophytes that decompose our litter, and also the bad ones – the pathogens. They are so fascinating – I could have been digging treasures all my scientific career. Yet. May 2019. I was sitting behind my desk in my office on the Wageningen campus. Overseeing the pond in the garden, the grassland with its many colourful flowering plants, a green woodpecker on the ground. I was reading the IPBES report: the IPBES is the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – which is the biodiversity equivalent of the IPCC for Climate. The message was: globally, biodiversity is lost at accelerating rates.. We humans are the cause – the way we eat, built, live ... the way we dominate nature. It is our own fault that society is at risk. I was shocked of the scale of the destruction of nature, the alarming rate of species extinction. I have two children! Teenagers. What state of the planet do I leave them? What state of planet do we leave them? My next thought was: What to do? What could possibly be my best action? My most strategic move? What would be my most clever contribution to solving this other crisis, next to climate change? My son said: You work at the best university of the world, so do something! Change it. He was right, he provided clear direction. I mobilised my network. I initiated a group of scientists from all scientific disciplines on the Wageningen campus – ecologists, agronomists, food technologists, geneticists, economists, sociologists to work on

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