Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tree Talk

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Nature, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution 

Ed Hessler

In some sense, trees are "social creatures," according to Dr. Suzanne Simard, University of British Columbia. 

Fresh Air's guest host, Dave Davies talked with her recently and you may listen to the entire interview (35-minutes) or read highlights.

Trees share information chemically, "linked to neighboring trees by an underground network of fungi that resembles the neural networks in the brain. In one study, Simaard watched as a Douglas fir that had been injured by insects appeared to send chemical warning signals to a pnderosa pine growing nearby. The pine tree then produced defense enzymes to protect against the insect."

Simard told Davies, "'This was a breakthrough, information that actually is important to the health of the whole forest," was being shared.

And there is more going on. "(T)rees have been known to share nutrients at critical times to keep each other healthy. She says the trees in a forest are often linked to each other via an older tree she calls a 'mother' or 'hub' tree."

Recently, Simard's research became more personal "when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the course of her treatment, she learned that one of the chemotherapy medicines she relied on was actually derived from a substance some trees make for their own personal defense. She writes about her research as well as her "personal story in the new memoir Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.

The highlights of the interview include working for a logging company, career as a young forester, on the critical relationship between trees and fungi, nutrient sharing among trees, the role breast cancer has had in shaping her research, the importance to the forest of letting an old tree die on its own rather than salvage logging, at least right away.

Fungi also play a crucial role but different role in shaping grassland communities, especially in native plant restoration. In this research published in 2018. In the abstract the authors note that "Ecological restoration efforts can increase the diversity and function of degraded areas. However, current restoration practices cannot typically reestablish the full diversity and species composition of remnant plant communities. We present evidence that restoration quality can be improved by reintroducing key organisms from the native plant microbiome."

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