“Justine Karst, a mycologist at the University of Alberta, feared things had gone too far when her son got home from eighth grade and told her he had learned that trees could talk to each other through underground networks.
Her colleague, Jason Hoeksema of the University of Mississippi, had a similar feeling when watching an episode of “Ted Lasso” in which one soccer coach told another that trees in a forest cooperated rather than competed for resources.
Few recent scientific discoveries have captured the public’s imagination quite like the wood-wide web — a wispy network of fungal filaments hypothesized to shuttle nutrients and information through the soil and to help forests thrive. The idea sprouted in the late 1990s from studies showing that sugars and nutrients can flow underground between trees. In a few forests, researchers have traced fungi from the roots of one tree to those of others, suggesting that mycelial threads could be providing conduits between trees.
These findings have challenged the conventional view of forests as a mere population of trees: Trees and fungi are, in fact, coequal players on the ecological stage, scientists say. Without both, forests as we know them wouldn’t exist.”
David Lindsay: My introduction to this debate came from reading “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers. Here is one of many comments, I liked:
What is very obvious to any practicing forest ecologist is that intact, less disturbed forest communities include high levels of biodiversity and demonstrate greater resilience and resistance to disturbance (fire, wind, disease). In other words, they are healthy, robust, and living the good life. Excessively logged and disturbed forests and tree plantations show characteristics only slightly better than a suburban lawn, basically only surviving with some kind of external life support. Trying to argue that the individual trees and their mycorrhizal neighbors are in on this discussion is fun to think about, and does make for superb storytelling (thank you Richard Powers!). But the heart of this issue is not an anthropomorphic interpretation of chemical exchange between tree roots and fungi. The real issue is a political one – is nature driven more by cooperation between species, or is every individual plant and animal only out for themselves? This argument has been raging since Petr Kropotkin published “Mutual Aid” and the ecologist, Frederic Clements, demonstrated his basis for a cooperative planet in the late 1800s. The evidence leans heavily towards Clements, Kropotkin, and, now, Simard. BTW Mr Darwin also leaned in this direction, although the “I’ve got mine, so sorry for you” crowd likes to twist his comments. And this argument about how nature truly functions will play out in a planet altering way across our social sphere here in the U.S. all day tomorrow.