Trees & Forests

Talking Trees?

Are Trees Talking Underground? For Scientists, It’s in Dispute: This lengthy article examines the claims of a wood-wide web – the popularized term that posits trees share resources via mycorrhizal networks. While no one disputes the existence of the mycorrhizal networks, several alternative theories are proposed. For example, mycorrhizae may be sharing resources strictly for their own benefit, with ancillary benefits for trees. Resource sharing may have nothing to do with so-called communication between trees. Mycorrhizal resource-sharing may not be widespread as it has only been documented in a few forest networks. In many studies, the putative networks appeared to either hinder tree growth or to have no effect. No one has demonstrated that fungi distribute meaningful amounts of resources among trees in ways that increase the fitness of the receiving trees. The article is presents both sides of the argument, citing key scientists on both sides and highlighting where additional research is required to prove the argument one way or another.

Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, examines a forested area of her campus. Dr. Jones and her colleagues are part of a skeptical reaction to the theory of the “wood-wide web.” Photo credit…Jennilee Marigomen for The New York Times

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