How Trees Talk to Each Other

There are many things in this world I don’t understand.  How women can walk in high-heeled shoes, for example.  Now I can add tree communication to the list.

Recently I ran across a TED Talk by a forest ecologist named  Suzanne Simard.  She has been researching Canadian forests for thirty years, and she’s concluded that “A forest is much more than what you see”.   Her most amazing discovery is that trees talk, often and over vast distances.  Basically, there is an underground network of biological pathways that connect trees, allow them to communicate and let the forest behave as a single organism.  This means that the forestry practice of clear-cutting may be far more destructive than we realize.

Suzanne’s experiments involved injecting radioactive gas into the atmospheres around three species of seedlings (birch, fir, and cedar).  She was able to show the seedlings of two of the species (birch and fir) ingested the radioactive gas, turned it into sugars, sent it to their roots, and shuttled carbon to their neighbors.  (Cedar seems to live in its own world.)  Later research has showed her that it’s not only carbon; trees also communicate with nitrogen, water, phosphorous, and other compounds.  This communications web also includes fungi, forming a network suggestive of the Internet, with nodes of hub or “mother” trees that nurture their young.  The implications for the forest are earthshaking, at least figuratively.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I understand, but you can hear Suzanne’s TED Talk at https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other#t-25515.  It’s only a bit over 18 minutes, and she also has some thoughts about bears.

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