Wood Wide Web: The buried language network of the trees

Wood Wide Web

A complex web of roots, bacteria and fungi has been discovered by an international team of researchers; allegedly this web builds a ‘social’ network for trees, enabling them to connect to one another.

The study revealed that trees, like humans, talk, trade and fight with one another. This is possible through a network of fungi, which is known as mycorrhizal fungi networks. The name is derived from Mycorrhizal fungi, which forms a symbiotic relationship with plants. The fungi grows around and inside the roots of the trees and it is through this fungi that the trees receive nutrients and in return give sugars. This connection of the network runs much deeper and farther than it was first discovered by scientists. This is known as the “wood wide web”, a subterranean social network, which is nearly 500 million years old.

The mother trees or the older trees supply sugars to the shaded seedlings through this fungal network, helping them to survive; whereas trees that are weaker and dying supply their entire source to the neighboring trees. The study revealed that plants use fungi to send messages to one another. For instance, when they are attacked, they send chemical signals through their roots. This is referred to as warning signals to the neighboring trees, signaling them to raise their defenses. The network also highlighted predators like the orchids which steal resources from nearby trees to grow and trees like black walnut, which spreads toxic chemicals, contaminating the network.

The research is a collaborative effort of researchers from Stanford University in the US and the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. For the study the team referred to the database of the Global Forest Initiative, a project that covers about 1.2 million forest tree plots with around 28,000 species from more than 70 countries in the world. For the first time, the researchers build models of the underground root network of the trees in order to examine and visualize the fungal networks. Researchers established this via direct observations of the trees and their symbolic associations on the ground. Prof Thomas Crowther said in a statement, “It’s the first time that we’ve been able to understand the world beneath our feet, but at a global scale.”

Details of the research is reported to appear in Nature journal.