Recent research has revealed that the relationship between fungi and trees is much more complex than previously thought. Fungi have long been known to form symbiotic relationships with trees, exchanging nutrients and helping trees absorb water. However, scientists have now discovered that these relationships extend beyond individual trees to form a complex network of underground communication and cooperation.
This network, known as the “wood wide web,” is made up of mycorrhizal fungi, which form connections with the roots of trees and other plants. The fungi allow trees and plants to communicate with each other, sharing nutrients and warning each other of potential threats such as insect attacks or disease. These transmissions allow plant colonies to better defend themselves and even send nutrients to neighboring plants in need.
One recent study found that trees are able to transfer carbon between each other through these fungal networks. Researchers labeled individual trees with radioactive carbon and found that the carbon was later detected in neighboring trees. This suggests that trees are able to share resources and support each other.
In addition to facilitating communication between trees, the wood wide web is also vital for maintaining the health of our forest ecosystems. Fungi play a crucial role in breaking down dead plant matter, returning nutrients to the soil and allowing new plant life to thrive. Without these fungi, forests would struggle to regenerate and support a diverse array of species. By better understanding these relationships, we can work towards more effective forest management practices and bolster the health of our urban tree canopy.
To learn more about trees, California native plants, and how you can help promote and protect healthy ecosystems, visit treepeople.org/learn. To find out how you can help TreePeople plant trees, restore habitat and green Southern California, visit treepeople.org/volunteer. Join us each week as we plant and care for trees, remove invasive species, and maintain our projects throughout the region.