How trees chat to each other every day?

Hidden under your feet is an information superhighway that allows trees to communicate and help each other out. Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard and her colleagues  at the University of British Columbia have made an interesting discovery: trees and plants really do communicate and interact with each other. 

First, Dr. Simard tried to reproduce the process of carbon transmission from one pine seedling root to another pine seedling root, but outside the lab. By using the Geiger counter over plants leaves, she discovered that plants indeed had taken up the radioactive gas (C13 and C14) from their neighbors. It happened just one hour after the experiment had begun. 

In the picture below Dr. Suzanne Simard and her graduate student, Marcus Bingham, try to determine if radioactive materials representing nutrients were transported through the root system from the Douglas fir ‘mother’ tree to other nearby vegetation. They used Geiger counter to check their hypothesis.

Additionally, one interesting thing popped out in this short experiment. It showed that only particular tree species were exchanging carbon and nutrients among each other, while other species were in their own world. For instance, Cedar appeared not to be connected into the web interlinking birch and fir. 

This result motivated Dr. Simard to learn more about interconnections between trees and plants of forest ecosystem.

Recently, her team’s analysis revealed in the microscopic experimentation that the fungi networks transport water, carbon and nutrients such as nitrogen among trees.

It was also found that when “Mother Tree” is cut down, the survival rate of the younger members of the forest is substantially diminished.

Some of you may recall Avatar movie, where in the forest, all organisms were connected and were communicating thanks to “some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of trees”. It seems there is some truth to this in real world.

This groundbreaking work of Dr. Simard on symbiotic plant communication has far-reaching implications in the forest industry, in particular concerning sustainable stewardship of forests and the plant’s resistance to pathogens.
Also, this revelation may change our approach on harvesting forests, by leaving the older trees intact to foster regrowth.

Watch an inspiring TED video here: How trees talk to each other?

One of the first and most quoted articles of Dr. Simard you can find here:
Net transfer of carbon between ectomycorrhizal tree species in the field

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One thought on “How trees chat to each other every day?

  1. Check out The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, available in September, which talks about Dr Simard’s work and more.

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