One of the main characteristics of humanity is our ability to communicate with each other through different languages that have evolved alongside us over the years. Of course, different forms of life all over Earth can communicate in various different ways, but the idea of a “mycelial Internet” that allows trees and similar life forms to speak to one another is a relatively new idea.
Mycelia is the main body of fungi. While you might be picturing a mushroom when I say fungi, mushrooms are actually the fruiting bodies of fungi--the ones that pop up on the ground surface for us to see. Underneath these mushrooms lies a vast network of mycelia that researchers and scientists believe is utilized by the forests in which they are found.
Paul Stamets tells us that “mycelia are Earth’s natural Internet.” And since this famous quote was first coined, a slew of research has followed. What they’ve found is that trees might not be as benign as we once thought. Or that is to say, when a tree is cut down or dies, it cannot simply be replaced by planting another one, as so many of us tend to believe.
Even though it is thought to be a success when we are able to replant entire forests that have been removed or destroyed, we’re not really recreating the vast, diverse forest that once existed on that land--we’re simply building a ‘farm’ of trees that only has one crop.
Suzanne Simard, at a recent TEDSummit 2016 talk, tells us that “a forest is much more than what you see,” expanding on the idea that forests are not just groupings of individual trees all standing next to one another.
"Now, we know we all favor our own children, and I wondered, could Douglas fir recognize its own kin, like mama grizzly and her cub? So we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger's seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their kin.
Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings.
So we've used isotope tracing to trace carbon moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighboring seedlings, not only carbon but also defense signals. And these two compounds have increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses. So trees talk."
- Suzanne Simard
Interesting, right? Simard tells us that trees not only care for their young ones as many other forms of life do on Earth, but they actually practice passing down generational wisdom to their offspring based on their own experiences--all using mycelia networks provided by fungi.
At the moment, scientists estimate that there about 15 million different species on Earth today. Of these 15 million, they believe approximately 6 million of them are some type of fungi. But, we’ve only classified about 75,000 of them, or 1.5%. As one might guess, this leaves tremendous room for study and research on fungi and their infamous mycelial ‘Internet’ networks. They might even shed light on how we can achieve more sustainable lifestyles!
h/t Tree Hugger