How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest | Decoder

How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest | Decoder


Ouch! What do you think you’re doing? The idea of talking trees has been capturing
the human imagination for generations. Did you say something? My bark is worse than my
bite. Okay, so maybe they don’t talk to us,
but it turns out, trees can “talk” to each other. The trees are speaking to each other. But that does beg the question:
What do trees have to talk about? And can we learn to speak their language? Underneath the soil, a vast and interconnected network of life links the trees through their root systems. But, they can’t talk to each other without help. The whole process starts with hub trees—the oldest
and tallest trees in the forest. Hub trees have greater access to sunlight, and through the process of photosynthesis, end up producing more sugar than they actually need. Underground, fungi need sugar to survive. Most of their bodies are made up of
a mass of threads called “mycelium.” They grow within the root system of trees
to absorb the excess sugar. In return, the mycelium provides the tree with the nutrients it needs from the soil. This symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhiza, which stems from the Greek words for fungus and root. These tree-fungi relationships connect
the trees in the forest together, forming an underground communication network to exchange water and nutrients, to nurture their seedlings, and even send warning signals when under threat. So, how many trees are really talking to each other? To get a better picture of these forest relationships, a team of researchers used DNA analysis to map a fungal network in a patch of Canadian forest. Remarkably, they found that one tree was connected to 47 other trees! Their models also showed that when hub trees were removed, it would cause more connections to be lost
than if trees were simply removed randomly. Studying these kinds of underground exchanges will play a vital role in creating stronger, more resilient forests for the future. So, even though we might not be able to “talk” to trees, at least we can still keep trying to understand their language. Who knows what they might say?

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