Speaker: Suzanne Simard
Bio: Forest Ecologist with over 30 years of research in Canadian forests. She studies the complex, symbiotic network in forests.
“Imagine you’re walking through a forest. I’m guessing you’re thinking of a collection of trees…Yes, trees are the foundation of forests, but a forest is much more than what you see, and today I want to change the way you think about forests”, begins the speaker of this TED talk.
So what do we normally think when it comes to forests? Perhaps we rue the rapid deforestation, which in many parts of the world is stripping away these green lungs of our planet? With many of us sequestered in our homes at the moment, during these COVID19 lockdowns, maybe we feel that the NATURAL WORLD is getting a bit of a temporary BREAK and RESPITE from our human activity.
Or when we think of forests, some of us might be reminded of folk lore, tales and customs associated with them. For many of us, forests seem to WHISPER with a bit of MAGIC.
For our featured speaker, forests held a lot of curiosity while she grew up near them, in British Columbia. Wanting to know more, she studied forestry. Her research into forests, as a scientist, led to some dazzling discoveries:
She says, “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 though it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence”.
Suzanne Simard talks of how the interlinking communication pathways among trees in a forest, might be compared to a network just like the INTERNET, with hubs and nodes.
“The biggest, darkest nodes are the busiest nodes. We call those ‘hub trees’, or more fondly, ‘mother trees’, because it turns out that those hub trees nurture their young, the ones growing in the understory. And if you can see those yellow dots, those are the young seedlings that have established within the network of the old mother trees. In a single forest, a mother tree can be connected to hundreds of other trees. And using our isotope tracers, we have found that mother trees will send their excess carbon through the mycorrhizal network to the understory seedlings, and we’ve associated this with increased seedling survival by FOUR TIMES.
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.”
Watch the full TED talk to hear the speaker describe the forest experiments she conducted.
Her findings on the science of tree communication have very important implications. The adage “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND” might as well hold true for TREES. For unlike what was previously thought, trees not just COMPETE with each other, but also extensively CO-OPERATE with each other, in highly interdependent networks.
Which leads to the question: How many individual trees can be cut down before an entire forest gets ENDANGERED as a direct result of damage to this networked ecosystem?
What must change as a result, in our approach to FORESTS’ STEWARDSHIP?
Tune in for insights into all of this and more. This is a talk which should easily keep the listener hooked from start to end.
The insights gained might even remind some of the movie AVATAR, judging by viewer comments posted.
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