Did You Know That Trees Talk to Each Other?

A fascinating story in honor of Earth Day is the growing research into how trees are much more social beings than we ever realized. There are widening studies by forestry ecologists into the way trees communicate using networks of fungus in the ground, relaying messages to each other warning of predators, sharing nutrients with their “sick” neighbors and even forging “alliances” with different tree species.

Likened to the neural pathways in the brain or the lines of communication that form the internet, the underground fungal networks have been described variously as the “wood wide web,” the “mushroom internet” or the “mycorrhizal network.” Vast swathes of mycorrhizal fungus connect different trees in the forest. Trees are then able to send nutrients through these pathways to be picked up by connected trees as well as chemicals that act as “distress signals,” causing their neighbors to release substances that can defend against disease or attack from predators.

Ecologist Suzanne Simard is one of the researchers delving further into these studies. During one of her studies, she witnessed a Douglas fir tree that, having been colonized by insects, sent chemicals acting as a warning to a nearby ponderosa pine tree. This caused the pine to create enzymes that would protect it against insects. In other studies, she has seen older trees sending carbon, nutrients and water to young seedlings, the same way a mother would nurture her child.

What better reason to make sure we’re all doing our bit to save the trees!

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