The “internet” network of trees
In forests and natural ecosystems there is an incredible network of communication and cooperation going on beneath our feet, out of sight. At the heart of this amazing phenomenon is the mycelium, an underground network of fine fungal filaments that spreads through the soil, connecting trees and plants in fascinating ways.
The mycelium is the vegetative part of fungi, a lattice-like structure that branches out and spreads through the soil. These filaments, called hyphae, are fundamental to the functioning of fungi, allowing them to absorb nutrients and water from the soil. However, the mycelium also plays a crucial role in communication and information exchange between plants.
Trees, through their roots, are connected to underground mycelium. Through this network, they can exchange a variety of chemical compounds and messages in what some scientists have called the “Wood Wide Web” (the “world wide web of the forest”). This underground communication allows trees to alert each other to dangers, share nutrients and form beneficial alliances.
When a tree is under attack by insects or pathogens, it can release chemical compounds through its roots that are detected by fungi present in the soil. These fungi, in turn, transmit the signal to other nearby trees via the mycelium. In response, alerted trees may increase their chemical defenses to protect themselves from attack.
In addition to warning communication, trees also use mycelium to share nutrients. Larger, more mature trees, which have access to sunlight at the top of the forest canopy, can provide nutrients to younger, shaded trees through mycelium. This exchange benefits both recipient and donor trees, promoting the growth and survival of the tree community.
This phenomenon of underground communication challenges our traditional understanding of competition in nature. Instead of a fierce struggle for resources, we see a cooperative system in which trees and fungi work together for mutual benefit. This form of underground communication reminds us of the complexity and interconnectedness of natural ecosystems.
As we deepen our understanding of this amazing communication network, we can develop a greater respect and appreciation for biodiversity and the importance of maintaining healthy forests. Mycelium and communication between trees below the ground show us that nature is an interconnected web, with each organism playing a crucial role in the overall functioning of the ecosystem.