Did you know that trees talk to each other? Are you curious to know how (and why) trees communicate? Let’s discover this secret underground network that affects our world more than we realize.
Talking trees have always been popular in books, fairy tales, and movies. One character that immediately comes to mind is the friendly and magnificent Ent Treebeard from The Lord of The Rings.
But did you know that communication between trees also happens in real life?
That's right: there is a whole other side of forest life that is largely unexplored and unheard of by many Americans!
Here, we invite you to discover this incredible communication network of trees: how and why trees talk to one another, and why this is important to our natural world.
How Do Trees Communicate with Each Other?
German botanist, plant pathologist, and mycologist Albert Bernard Frank was the first to hypothesize the unseen web of communication between trees as early as the 19th century. His dedication to his scientific work has helped ignite everything we now know about tree communication networks.
Trees in forests are intricately connected to each other through sophisticated underground connections called "mycorrhizal networks”. This is because mycorrhizae (with “mycorrhiza” meaning fungal root) have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of other plants present in the soil.
Think of these networks as electrical power lines spreading electricity voltage to one another, with the trees being the electric poles and the roots being the lines. (This is also often referred to as “Earth’s natural internet”.)
As a form of payment for their services, fungi consume a percentage of the glucose that trees photosynthesize from sunlight. In exchange, fungi provide trees with needed nutrients like phosphorus or nitrogen for their survival.
This is what it means to have a symbiotic relationship: two organisms benefiting from each other's actions.
In the wild, we typically assume it's purely a game of survival of the fittest. But the truth is that symbiotic relationships are prevalent and vital in nature, and trees have an important role to play in that regard for their terrestrial community.
How Do Trees Benefit from
Sensing Danger and Creating Defense
Interconnected trees help warn each other of certain dangers.
Numerous scientific studies have discovered the danger signals between trees and plants. They've shown that trees can produce protective enzymes when they sense a neighboring tree is in danger.
This also goes for smaller plants. One study has demonstrated this by placing hungry caterpillars on a tomato plant for 24 hours.
Within that short timeframe, the research team noticed neighboring, interconnected tomato plants began to protect themselves by sending chemical and hormonal signals to the mother plant. Even tomato plants far from the caterpillars also shifted into gear to produce their own defenses.
This rapid communication between plants (and trees) is what helps them survive to the best of their ability.
Replenishing Lacking Resources
A tree needs water, sunlight, glucose, and nutrients to survive. Many different factors contribute to how much of these resources trees get.
For this reason, trees rely on their rooted network for distribution of resources between fungi and other trees. For example, saplings or young trees that do not get optimal sunlight from where they are rooted or growing get their much needed nutrients through this network.
It's how trees ensure enough resources are given and taken.
How Does Tree Communication Help the Environment?
The mycorrhizal network ensures that trees last longer and continue to fulfill their primary role in the ecosystem.
Their main task is converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into Oxygen (O)–a conversion that organisms (including human beings) on Earth need to survive.
That is why the more trees there are fulfilling this life-giving task, the better.
This is painfully evident when you observe forests as the ecosystem gets disrupted: when neighboring trees die, it can cause more sunlight to reach the forest floor since there's less shade being cast (from leaves and branches).
Consequently this results in sunlight directly in contact with fungi, so they will lack the dark and damp requirements to thrive as decomposers in the environment.
And with less decomposing going on? More organisms will die, and their nutrients won't enter the ecosystem as efficiently.
This chain reaction is another reason trees have communication networks that connect them to fungi and other plants.
The Bottom Line on Tree Networks
Trees have existed for millions of years, and their importance cannot be understated.
They rely on one another to communicate dangers and share valuable resources to maintain and shape our environment.
There was a time when human communities and societies functioned the same way in order to survive; and to this day, we are still hardwired to not only seek human companionship and camaraderie, but also find pleasure and relief in nature. You do not need to fully subscribe to the concept of biophilia to agree that nature provides us multiple health benefits.
That's why promoting environmental awareness is our mission at a.c.e. Nature.
Nature is beautiful. Nature is alive.
Let us help keep nature that way.
It starts with the little ways that cause widespread ripple effects. You can start right now by making sure to buy sustainable clothing that helps you support the great outdoors in style.
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