“Mother Trees” Use Fungal Communication Systems to Preserve Forests
Suzanne Simard, forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues have made the major discovery that trees and plants really do communicate and interact with each other. She discovered an underground web of fungi connecting the trees and plants of an ecosystem. This symbiosis enables the purposeful sharing of resources, consequently helping the whole system of trees and plants to flourish.
Simard was lead to the discovery by the observation of webs of bright white and yellow fungal threads in the forest floor. Many of these fungi were mycorrhizal, meaning they have a beneficial, symbiotic relationship with a a host plant, in this case tree roots. Microscopic experimentation revealed that the fungi actually moves carbon, water and nutrients between trees, depending upon their needs.
“The big trees were subsidizing the young ones through the fungal networks. Without this helping hand, most of the seedlings wouldn’t make it.”
At the hub of a forest’s mycorrhizal network stand the “Mother Trees”. These are large, older trees that rise above the forest, a concept illustrated in the movie Avatar. These “Mother Trees” are connected to all the other trees in the forest by this network of fungal threads, and may manage the resources of the whole plant community. Simard’s latest research reveals that when a Mother Tree is cut down, the survival rate of the younger members of the forest is substantially diminished.
What we think we know, is that there’s some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of the trees. Like the synapses between neurons.
Dr. Grace Augustine, fictional character in “Avatar”
The concept of symbiotic plant communication has far reaching implications in both the forestry and agricultural industries. This revelation may change the way we approach harvesting forests, by leaving the Mother Trees in tact to foster regrowth. In agriculture, undisturbed mycorrhiza systems enhance plant’s ability to resist pathogens, and absorb water and nutrients from the soil, bringing into question common practices that disturb these underground networks, such as plowing.