New science revelations: Trees communicate with each other and have social circles
If trees could talk, what would they say? Emerging research suggests that if they had mouths, they might just say a whole lot because, believe it or not. It sounds incredible, but when you discover how trees talk to each other, feel pain, nurture each other, even care for their close relatives and organize themselves into communities, it's hard to be skeptical. This was discovered by forester Peter Wohlleben. Far from just inanimate plants, trees do many ... večNew science revelations: Trees communicate with each other and have social circles
If trees could talk, what would they say? Emerging research suggests that if they had mouths, they might just say a whole lot because, believe it or not. It sounds incredible, but when you discover how trees talk to each other, feel pain, nurture each other, even care for their close relatives and organize themselves into communities, it's hard to be skeptical. This was discovered by forester Peter Wohlleben. Far from just inanimate plants, trees do many of the things animals and humans do, though for many this is not necessarily obvious.
Most individual trees of the same species growing in the same area will be connected through their root systems. It appears that helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, which leads to the conclusion that forests are super-organisms, much like ant colonies.
But the support they give each other is not random. Research by Professor Massimo Maffei at the University of Turin shows trees can distinguish the roots of their own species from other plants, and even pick out their own relations from other trees. Some are so tightly connected at the roots that they even die together, like a devoted married couple. Diseased or hungry individuals can be identified, supported and nourished until they recover.
When the trees behave like this, they remind us of a herd of elephants. Like the herd, they look after their own, helping the sick and the weak back onto their feet.
Dr Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has discovered that they can also send warnings using chemical signals and electrical impulses through the fungal networks that stretch under the soil between sets of roots — networks known as the 'wood wide web'.
These fungi operate like fibre-optic internet cables. Their thin filaments penetrate the earth, weaving through it in almost unbelievable density. One teaspoon of forest soil contains many miles of these tendrils.
Over centuries, if left undisturbed, a single fungus can cover many square miles and create a network throughout an entire forest. Through these links, trees can send signals about insects, drought and other dangers.
Trees also communicate with insects through feel good messages, the perfumed invitations issued by sweet smelling blossom.
These lovely scents are not to please us but to attract bees, which come for the sugar-rich nectar and take away a dusting of pollen, to fertilize other trees.
And it's not just the smells: blossoms are vivid splashes of colour. So trees are using displays of erotic perfume and dazzling adornment for sexual purposes — just like many animals and birds.
If you think that needs clever communication, think about how umbrella thorn acacias on the African savannah defend themselves against giraffes.
When they start picking at foliage, the acacias begin pumping foul-tasting toxins into the leaves to deter them. It happens in minutes, which for a tree is instantaneous. The giraffes get the message and move on.
But they don't go to the next acacia. They wander at least 100 yards before trying their luck again. The reason is astonishing. As they come under attack, the acacias give off a warning gas called ethylene that signals a crisis to neighbouring trees.
That triggers other acacias to dump toxins into their own leaves, as a defensive measure.
And the giraffes have learned that when one tree tastes bad, others in the vicinity will, too.
The exception is when the wind picks up and only trees downwind detect the ethylene in the air, and react. Giraffes know it too, and head upwind.
It's hardly surprising that most of us see trees as practically inanimate, nothing more than objects. But the truth is very different. They are just as intensely alive as we are . . . and for much, much longer.
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