Communication and the environment

Here is a quiet post for the weekend — a beautiful short film about trees.

The opening question is ‘Do Trees Communicate?’

To which my culture’s answer is, “Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous!”

But the answer of Suzanne Simard, professor at the University of British Columbia, who has studied these things, is that: Yes, they are communicating. They are exchanging information, and resources.

I particularly notice:

  • (at about 19 seconds), “These plants are not individuals in the way that Darwin thought of them as individuals, competing for survival of the fittest. In fact they are interacting with each other trying to help each other survive.”
  • At 1m33s, “Metres away you can have a plant connected to another plant and they are shuffling carbon and nitrogen back and forth according to who needs it.” The trees are operating cooperatively, via mycorrhizal fungi — together the trees and the fungi form one system, in just the same way that my blood cells and my skin cells are different and work together to form one system.
  • “[The trees are networked together] even though they are of different species.” (2m16s)
    Notice that so far as nature is concerned, the different types of trees, and the fungi, are all part of one large system. The idea of ‘species’ is something that we have added, just as we imagine that there is a ‘yellow’ duck.
  • “All these parts are working together. It’s a lot like how our brains work.” (2m37)
    The forest, indeed the entire world biosphere (2m33s), is working like a brain.

And (at 3m18), “Diversity is what gives the forest … the resilience to withstand unexpected events.”

“Fungus network ‘plays role in plant communication’ — Plants can communicate the onset of an attack from aphids by making use of an underground network of fungi, researchers have found.” — 10 May 2013

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