As outdoor lovers we understand that everything is connected.
Weather systems shape the waves and snow we ride and understanding them leads to a better experience. But scientists are proving a level of connectivity that is truly mind blowing.
Coastal communities like Peru are dependent on the upwelling that brings thousands of fish every year, the rainforests in the Amazon depend on rivers in the sky carrying moisture from thousands of miles away, and the oxygen we breathe is largely produced by diatoms at the bottom of the ocean. The diverse ecosystems surrounding us are in a constant state of change and create the symbiotic relationships that sustain life.
But perhaps the most astounding of all connections is happening right under our feet. Dirt becomes soil with the presence of fungal networks in the ground. This fungi not only breaks down organic matter but also provides an information system for plants and even trees.
In this short informational animation called, “The Secret Language of Trees”, directed by Avi Ofer and based off the book, Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, the narrators Camille Defrenne and Suzanne Simard elaborate on the large root system that lies beneath these giants.
The oldest trees have the largest mycorrhizal networks providing the most connections to other trees. Through these networks, the trees can recognize when a relative of their own species is sending them nutrients or molecules. They can also share warning information like potential droughts or insect attacks so they can increase production of protective enzymes. These trees sound their alarms to defend themselves and their legacy.
The relationship between tree and fungi starts when the tree creates sugar through photosynthesis and then takes this essential fuel to the base of the trunk through the thick sap and then down to the roots. The mycorrhizal fungi encounter the roots, surround and penetrate the outside cells and connect it to a neighboring tree.
The sugars that travel from a mature tree through the mycorrhizal network to a young seedling is beneficial for both parties–they benefit from this exchange as fungi cannot produce sugars, but can collect nutrients from the soil back to the tree roots.
These fungal networks are incredibly difficult to study because of the hundreds of species of mycorrhizae that make up the vast root systems. There could be dozens of different species of fungi on one root system, connecting to other trees that have their own fungal associations.
Next time you take a walk through the woods, make sure to thank the mycorrhizal networks that are changing the ecosystem by the second to distribute food and information to create a forest from tree.
Tree photos & blog by Nate Barnes, Edited by Cyrus Sutton