Do Forest-Wide Communication Networks Help Trees Talk to Each Other?
In the dark world of the underground, there are findings that trees communicate with each other through mycorrhizal networks formed by root-fungi connecting tree roots.
It wasn’t a big surprise for Professor Suzanne Simard to notice that the trees were talking to each other. Professor Suzanne Simard began her career as a woodsman working with trees planted in rows, but the nature he knew was not straight rows.
Nature is an incredibly complex, integrated, intricate structure. Suzanne Simard “When you enter the wild forests that are not shaped by humans, you see plants intertwined, these plants provide each other with living space. she says. In Prof.Suzanne Simard’s eyes, nature is a huge network of thousands of interacting components that trust each other’s functions.
This partnership of fungi in plants and plant roots, called the mycorrhizal networks, was an exciting discovery that emerged in the 1990s.
Currently working as a forest biologist at the University of British Columbia, Prof. Suzanne Simard said, “At the time, many people in the forestry field were researching how trees competed for sunlight. But I was much more interested in what was going on under the ground because I realized the main activity was underground, ”he says. The professor was right, she. Plants are connected under our feet and are in constant dialogue.
Suzanne Simard can also see links to stories of ambition, betrayal, and friendship discovered in the underground network in the aboveground version of her beloved forest. This network is known as The wood-wide web *. The mycorrhizal network is everywhere. With every step you take in the forest, a dense network of mushrooms that are miles long surrounds you under your feet. These are fiber optic cables of The wood-wide web.
The substances needed by the developing organisms pass through the bonds formed by the fungus by shaping both the plant root and the mycorrhiza. This is a smooth exchange relationship between plant and fungus that has been known for decades, where the plant sends the carbon-rich sugar it produces through photosynthesis to the mushrooms and in return receives nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that the fungus absorbs from the soil.
Common Mycorrhizal Network
Beyond the known barter relationships they have with the plants they are attached to, mycorrhizal networks also operate like busy streets that allow neighboring plants to exchange with each other. As the mycorrhizal network spreads, it connects with more plants and forms the network known as “common mycorrhizal networks”. Plants perform many clearing operations, especially sugar, nutrients, and water, through a common mycorrhizal network with other plants.
“I call it ‘the language of the trees’.” Says Professor Simard, it is clear that the trees have a lot to say to each other. By encouraging plants connected by a common mycorrhizal network to absorb isotopes of substances such as carbon sources, it is possible to trace the interconnected plants by following the progress of their food sources.
When we follow these resources that share with individuals in need, we see a scene like this: dying rootstock trees send carbon to their seedlings and donate nutrients to neighboring trees.
It is also observed that some trees are “favored” and transfer more resources to their close “relatives” than other species.
Plants, which are in an advantageous position in terms of land inclination and resource richness, share their water and food resources by donating the surplus to the plants in need.
It seems that by staying in touch through this network, plants exhibit mutual solidarity and shape the ecosystem in which they live. Forests of these plants in contact with each other look more like a giant super-organism than a community of individuals.
“The wood-wide web” is not limited to forests, but mycorrhizal networks appear in tropical rainforests, arctic tundras, wherever there is vegetation, and allow an incredible variety of vegetation to flourish on earth.
The structure of the network is very extensive and the network is very extensive. Not only plants but also different species can join the network. Different materials are shared over the network, depending on the types of fungi found on the network. In their studies over the last few years, researchers have proved that plants connected via “The wood-wide web” share more than nutrients through the network.
For example, when the broad bean plant is threatened by aphids, it releases a kind of chemical not only to repel the attack but also to invite wasps to hunt the aphids. This is a versatile, ingeniously designed defense system.
Professor David Johnson, a microbial ecologist at the University of Manchester, gave aphids to several plants as he wanted to test the usability of the mycorrhizal network as an early warning system that alerts other plants of an impending threat.
And he observed how the neighboring plants reacted. David Johnson “We’ve found exactly that; “When a plant is attacked, only neighboring plants whose root systems are connected by the mycorrhizal network react in the same way as the attacked plant.” says.
Communication on this network is slower than a “broadband” network, more like a “dial-up” network, but it does its job perfectly, sending messages to plants about all kinds of threats, from a hungry caterpillar to harmful pathogens.
Competition and cooperation
This relationship has been too optimistic until now. Professor Toby Kiers, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Vrije, thinks the idea that plants stretch out their hands or branches to help their neighbors is pretty but unrealistic. “We see a harmony because we want to see harmony.
In our view of the world, this point of view fits perfectly to nature, which is our extraordinary nourishment, but if we look deeply rather than superficially, what we will see can be anything but harmony. ” explains Professor Kiers. As a result, it is possible to say that plants living in an environment with limited resources are more competitors than neighbors of each other.
In the studies of Kiers and his team, they found that in mycorrhizal networks to which different types of plants were attached, plants sent fewer resources to maintain the network. This makes perfect sense to Kiers. Why would the plant send resources to its competitor if the mycorrhizal network would benefit the rival plant? Just like the “dark web”, the wood-wide web has a dark side.
There are beech trees that donate carbon to neighboring fir trees, as well as orchids that steal carbon from nearby trees, plants that warn their neighbors in the face of a threat, as well as plants that secrete toxins to kill their opponents. Competition as well as collaboration defines the wood-wide web. Although it may seem like friendly cooperation, sometimes this partnership is not what it seems unfortunate.
Dr. from Xavier University in Ohio. For years, Kathryn Morris has eagerly listened to both bonafide and malevolent conversations that plants had made over mycorrhizal networks. He thinks that the idea that plants “help” other plants seem very tempting and exaggerated, especially the idea that old trees “feed” young plants by sending carbon, but it is also possible to see young plants as parasites that damage old plants in the system.
Contention and commitment
What about the mushrooms in the roots? Although the relationship between the fungi in the plant and the roots seems to be mutual, there is a struggle to be number one. “Every collaboration is a conflict. Each of us would like to increase our share in return when we cooperate. Plants are no different from us. ” says Professor Kiers.
While both the plant and the fungus in its root, which cooperates to provide resources for each other, want to get the substances they need at the maximum level, they want to keep what they give to their partner in return. Although mushrooms are often seen as a dead-end in scientific studies, mushrooms probably have a much more active role.
Professor Johnson “We have good reason to think they are under some kind of control.” says. Attaching fungi, the most uniform form of the wood-wide web, to plants of different species can only occur when fungi need to supply different types of carbon.
Fungi on the roots are often at a disadvantage because while plants can obtain essential nutrients from the soil even without fungi, fungi are completely dependent on the plant for survival. To balance this relationship, fungi create “some kind of addiction” in Kiers’ words by limiting the access of plants in the network to the resource. “If I restrict your access to food, you will become more dependent on me for food,” says Professor Kiers.
The research that is currently being done to generate a signal from a source to plant A, from plant A to plant B, is rather limited. “A mycorrhizal network is incredibly complex,” says Professor Simard, who thinks that there are many different mechanisms to communicate in these networks. It is an extraordinary development that we manage to trace the signal we send from one plant to another. ” says.
Confusion in Abundance
Words such as language, super-organism, and wood-wide web expressed while trying to describe the mycorrhizal network are certainly not metaphors, but none of these expressions are sufficient to describe this enormous structure in which conflicts, conflicts, collaborations, and many unearthed events take place.
Perhaps the best definition for this structure is that Professor Simard preferred to compare: “My work shows that this structure is very similar to our social life, our connections to each other.
We have a social life that we create together with our journalists, scientists, teachers, doctors, and all other elements. If you remove all teachers from this system, social life will lose its functionality. ” An ecosystem also needs all the components in the system to remain active.
So are mycorrhizal networks utopian social lives where resources are equally distributed among stakeholders or are the connections that capital owners use to seek resources to exploit to gain more?
Maybe both. Just like in human society, there are many different characters in plant communities that help or prevent each other, cooperate or exploit. According to Professor Simard’s estimates, nature is built on connections, just like us.