Is the Wood-Wide Web Real? Scientists Debate Whether Trees Really Talk. – The New York Times

“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:

Cenzot
Hudson Valley1h ago

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.

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Jared Farmer | What the World Will Lose if Ancient Trees Die Out – The New York Times

Dr. Farmer is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Elderflora: A Modern History of Ancient Trees.”

Old trees are in big trouble.

Whole forests with fire-resistant giant sequoias up to 3,000 years in age have recently gone up in flames. Whole stands of drought-resistant Great Basin bristlecone pine, a species that can reach 5,000 years in age, have been sucked dry by bark beetles. Monumental baobabs, the longest-living flowering plants, buckle under the stress of drought in southern Africa. The iconic cedars of Mount Lebanon, ancient symbols of longevity, struggle in warmer, drier conditions. Millennial kauris in New Zealand and centenarian olive trees in Italy succumb to invasive diseases.

Cumulatively, this is more than a cyclical turnover. This is a great diminution: fewer megaflora (massive trees), fewer elderflora (ancient trees), fewer old-growth forests, fewer ancient species, fewer species overall.

Although Earth’s “tree cover” — three trillion plants covering roughly 30 percent of all land — has expanded of late, the canopy increasingly consists of trees planted for timber, paper pulp and cooking oil and for services such as protecting soil from wind erosion and offsetting carbon emissions. It’s young stuff. Old-growth communities are scarce and getting scarcer.

Ancient trees provide services too, but really, they are gift givers. Of all their gifts, the greatest are temporal and ethical. They inspire long-term thinking and encourage us to be sapient. They engage our deepest faculties: to revere, analyze and meditate. If we can recognize how they call upon our ethical imperative to care for them, then we should slow down climate change now, and pay forward to people who will need a future planet with chronodiversity as well as biodiversity.

Margaret Renkl | Why We Should All Be Chasing Acorns – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“Here is the sound in our family room on a windy day in October: BAM-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. All the windy day long, it’s BAM-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. When the barrage began a couple of weeks ago, our dog thought we were under attack. He ran between the storm door and the window, back and forth, back and forth, looking for intruders and barking his head off.

What he’s hearing are acorns dropping from the white oak tree on the other side of our house. The acorns hit the roof, bounce down the slope, crash into the metal gutter and then drop to the deck. I race outside as soon as I hear one hit, trying to beat the squirrels and the chipmunks to the oak tree’s bounty. It’s unseemly for a grown woman to be racing chipmunks for chipmunk food, but I’m collecting acorns for a good reason.

As Douglas W. Tallamy explains in his splendid 2021 book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” oaks are keystone plants, the central life form upon which so many other species in the ecosystem depend. Hundreds of insects and caterpillars feed on oak leaves, and those insects in turn feed birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even other insects. In fall and winter, acorns feed many of them all over again. Because so many predators eat the creatures that eat the acorns, a good year for oaks is a good year for everybody. “No other tree genus supports so much life,” Dr. Tallamy notes.”

Why Fungi Might Really Be Magic (When It Comes to Climate Change) – The New York Times

 — Toby Kiers took long strides across the spongy forest floor, felt the adrenaline rush in her veins and stopped at the spot she had traveled so far to reach. Into the ground went a hollow metal cylinder. Out came a scoop of soil.

Dr. Kiers stuck her nose into the dirt, inhaled its scent, imagined what secrets it contained to help us live on a hotter planet. “What’s under here?” she asked. “What mysteries are we going to unveil?”

The soil was deposited into a clear plastic bag, then labeled with the coordinates of this exact location on Earth.

Dr. Kiers, 45, an evolutionary biologist based at the Free University of Amsterdam, is on a novel mission. She is probing a vast and poorly understood universe of underground fungi that can be vital, in her view, in the era of climate change.

Some species of fungi can store exceptional levels of carbon underground, keeping it out of the air and preventing it from heating up the Earth’s atmosphere. Others help plants survive brutal droughts or fight off pests. There are those especially good at feeding nutrients to crops, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

In short, they are what she called “levers” to address the hazards of a warming climate.”

E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92 – The New York Times

“Edward O. Wilson, a biologist and author who conducted pioneering work on biodiversity, insects and human nature — and won two Pulitzer Prizes along the way — died on Sunday in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.

His death was announced on Monday by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.

“Ed’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge,” Paula J. Ehrlich, chief executive and president of the foundation, said in a statement. “A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet.”

When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.”

David Lindsay:  One of my great heroes has passed. He is the author of “Half-Earth, Our planet’s fight for life,” which has become the most important book in my life. It is a gateway aphrodisiac into the passion of habitat and wildlife conservation. (If anyone can’t get to read the entire obit, send me a message, and I will repost in January, with full permissions.)

Feeding Deer Does Much Harm, Little Good | The Outside Story

“Watching deer forage for whatever bits of food they can find through the cold months of winter, I can understand why some people feel an urge to feed them. Only supplemental feeding isn’t helpful at all to deer. Instead, it’s detrimental to their digestive health, and it pulls them away from safer, more nutritious food sources.

“Supplemental feeding has little or no benefit to the overall health of deer,” said Nick Fortin, Deer Project Leader for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “Interestingly, northern deer will lose weight in winter no matter what or how much they are fed, even in captivity.”

Like virtually all animals living in climates where winter is cold and snowy, deer use a variety of adaptations to adjust and survive. In the northern part of the Northeast, they often gather in deer yards, where softwood cover offers shelter from wind and cold as well as decreased snow depth. As deer move to and through their winter shelter, they pack down paths, allowing for easier travel to food and quicker escapes from predators.

In winter, deer reduce their energy expenditures by hunkering down during extended cold stretches; this way they can focus their activity during times when temperatures are warmer. Similar to animals that hibernate, deer store fat – it can constitute up to 20 percent of their body weight, said Fortin – and they can use that fat as a sort of energy savings account.

A deer’s digestive system also goes through changes to cope with less abundant – and different – food sources. Deer are ruminants, which means they have a four-chambered stomach, like cows and sheep. Each chamber contains microorganisms to help with digestion. These microbes become tuned in to a winter diet of twigs and buds, nuts, any fruits and berries that persist, and whatever grasses they can find. A sudden change in diet – say to supplemental corn or rich hay – can wreak havoc on this system.”

Source: Feeding Deer Does Much Harm, Little Good | The Outside Story

Feeding deer can be dangerous to their health

“According to this study, conducted by the DIF&W, supplemental feeding of deer has increased over the last two decades. It states that in many areas, supplemental feeding contributes to winter mortality of deer, and “there is good biological justification to ban feeding of deer.”

The DIF&W’s website features a section on feeding deer that begins with the admonition, “The best option is to not feed deer at all.” If you do, however, the department provides some useful tips.

• Locate deer feeding sites in or near deer wintering areas and at least a half-mile from plowed roads to minimize road-kill losses.

• Distribute feed in many locations every day to reduce competition among deer. Remember that concentrating deer in small areas can create a feeding ground for predators.

• Proper feed is natural browse items such as dogwood, birch or witch hobble. Oats or acorns can be given as diet supplements. In winter, the microorganisms within the deer stomach are different from the microorganisms the rest of the year. This change allows deer to ingest a diet of woody browse and turn the high-fiber diet into protein.

• Do not feed hay, corn, kitchen scraps, potatoes, lettuce trimmings or any animal proteins from animals rendered into feed. Deer may actually starve when fed supplemental foods during winter if they have a full belly of indigestible foods. Many deer have starved to death with stomachs packed full of hay.”

Source: Feeding deer can be dangerous to their health

Bald eagles attack loons, but that’s not why loons are struggling – Granite Geek

“Bald eagles, as I’m sure you know, are making quite the comeback in New Hampshire (along with much of North America). New Hampshire Audubon and the Loon Preservation Committee wondered what effect this large fish-eating predator was having on another iconic fish-eating bird, the loon.

The answer, they say, is “not much”.

The team looked for evidence of predation attempts by an increasing eagle population, and whether this was limiting how successful loons are at raising young or if eagles provoked changes in where loons nest. The scientists found that eagle nest proximity may be contributing to about 3% of observed loon nest failures, but that this pressure does not account for local declines in loon abundance. Loons face a wide range of other simultaneous threats, including mortality from lead tackle poisoning, avian malaria, and entanglement in monofilament fishing line.

“We confirmed that eagles have joined a wide range of stressors currently impacting loons in New Hampshire,” said Loon Preservation Committee Senior Biologist John Cooley. “This result is great motivation to keep reducing the impacts caused by humans, like lead tackle poisoning, so that eventually the primary challenge for nesting loons can once again be natural predators like eagles.”

Source: Bald eagles attack loons, but that’s not why loons are struggling – Granite Geek

Opinion | Why Are We Still Slaughtering the American Bison? – The New York Times

By Richard Conniff
Contributing Opinion Writer

March 30, 2019

Bison in Yellowstone National Park.CreditCreditJosh Haner/The New York Times

“In a 120-acre pasture on an Indian reservation in northeastern Montana, five prime examples of America’s national mammal rumble and snort. They shake their enormous heads and use them to plow aside the snow to get to their feed. In the night, I like to think, they put those shaggy heads together to ruminate on the weird politics of the American West and blast clouds of exhausted air out their shiny nostrils.

These five, all males, arrived last month from Yellowstone National Park, the last great refuge of the wild bison that once dominated the American landscape from Pennsylvania to Oregon. Their arrival marks the beginning of what will ostensibly become a pipeline sending surplus bison from Yellowstone out to repopulate portions of their old habitat.

Since 2000, it has been the custom to send 600 or 1,000 prize Yellowstone bison to slaughter every year at about this time to keep the park’s booming population at roughly 4,000 animals. The meat goes mainly to tribal nations. Even so, the culling is perverse and wasteful: Yellowstone is home to genetically pure wild bison, coveted by national parks, Native American tribes and conservation groups across the West.

But Yellowstone is also home to a notorious disease called brucellosis, dreaded by cattle ranchers everywhere. And while Congress in 2016 designated the American bison the national mammal, everyone knows that title comes with fine print reading “other than cattle.” And when it comes to cattle — a species that is not native to North America — the politics always gets weird.”