'Tree mothers' are a lot like human mothers, ecologist says
Saturday, July 30, 2016, 7:03 PM - "A forest is much more than what you see."
These are the words of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, whose recent talk at TEDSummit 2016 revealed some astounding discoveries from her 30 years of research in Canadian forests.
Trees, Simard says, talk often and over large distances.
"You see, underground there is this other world. A world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate, and allow the forest to behave as if it's a single organism," Simard explains.
But their communication and comprehension skills go much deeper than that -- trees can also recognize their offspring, and nurture them both below and above the ground.
"Now, we know we all favor our own children, and I wondered, could Douglas fir recognize its own kin, like mama grizzly and her cub? So we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger's seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings. So we've used isotope tracing to trace carbon moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighboring seedlings, not only carbon but also defense signals. And these two compounds have increased the resistance of those seedlings to future stresses. So trees talk."
Simard notes that the conversation between trees increases the resilience of the entire community -- similar to the way human social communities are stronger with increased communication.
WATCH: Suzanne Simard's full TEDSummit 2016 talk, below