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Special Interest

Scientists Uncover Intriguing Methods of Plant Communication, Including the “Wood-Wide Web”

  • Craig Miller
  • |
  • May 15, 2023
  • |
  • 3 minute read
  • |
Scientists Uncover Intriguing Methods of Plant Communication, Including the “Wood-Wide Web”
Key Takeaways
  • Researchers continue to uncover intriguing methods of plant communication, including the "wood-wide web," chemicals, sounds, and through the soil.
  • The wood-wide web theory proposes that trees in forests cooperate rather than compete, utilizing fungal connections to exchange information, water, and nutrients.
  • Plants can communicate through chemicals released when damaged by insects or other herbivores, and some studies indicate that carbon and dye can transfer between certain tree seedlings.
  • A groundbreaking study suggests that plants use acoustic communication, as tomato and tobacco plants were found to emit popping and clicking sounds at ultrasonic frequencies.
  • Scientists have mapped the wood-wide web on a global scale, revealing that local climate influences the network and potentially informing future conservation efforts.

The concept of plant communication has intrigued researchers for years, sparking debates over whether plants can communicate with one another and their environment.

As experts delve deeper into this field, they continue to uncover various methods plants may use to communicate, such as the “wood-wide web,” chemicals, sounds, and through the soil.

Exploring the Wood-Wide Web Theory

The wood-wide web theory was proposed in the 1990s when scientists suggested that forests were interconnected underground through complex networks of fungi called mycorrhizas.

This concept postulates that trees in forests cooperate rather than compete, utilizing fungal connections to exchange information, water, and nutrients.

Although the idea has gained popularity in pop culture and educational material, researchers continue to investigate the intricacies of plant communication networks.

Several studies have shown that carbon and dye can transfer between certain tree seedlings, indicating that some form of communication may be occurring.

Despite these findings, more research is needed to determine the extent of the wood-wide web and its role in plant communication.

Understanding Chemical Communication

When plants are damaged by insects or other herbivores, they have been shown to release airborne chemicals.

These chemical signals can be detected by other leaves on the same plant and neighboring plants, prompting them to increase their defenses.

However, it remains uncertain how prevalent this communication method is among plants and its overall significance for their survival.

Investigating Acoustic Communication in Plants

A groundbreaking study conducted by a team at Tel Aviv University sought to determine whether plants use acoustic communication.

Researchers discovered that tomato and tobacco plants emitted popping and clicking sounds at ultrasonic frequencies, which are beyond the range of human hearing.

Although the exact purpose and production method of these sounds are yet to be determined, the researchers believe they carry valuable information.

The concept of plant communication has intrigued researchers for years, sparking debates over whether plants can communicate with one another and their environment.

Communication through Soil and Microbial Interactions

Plant roots produce volatile chemicals, hormones, and other signaling molecules that can be transmitted to and detected by other roots through the soil.

A vast array of microbes also reside underground, reacting to the substances emitted by plants. These microbial communities might influence the behavior of other plants, although the exact mechanisms are still unknown.

Researchers continue to examine the role of fungi in plant communication.

Many plants have roots colonized by fungi that exchange nutrients with them.

However, evidence supporting the idea that these networks are used for communication between plants remains limited.

Passive Eavesdropping or Active Communication?

Some experts propose that plants may not engage in active communication but are instead “eavesdropping” on their environment.

They argue that plants are sensitive to reliable information that can increase their fitness, making them responsive to a variety of cues.

However, this theory does not necessarily imply that plants have evolved specifically to emit these cues.

Mapping the Wood-Wide Web on a Global Scale

In a groundbreaking effort, scientists have now mapped the wood-wide web on a global scale, utilizing a database containing over 28,000 tree species residing in more than 70 countries.

The study, published in Nature, reveals that local climate influences the wood-wide web, with different types of fungi dominating various regions.

This information could prove invaluable for researchers seeking to develop better models to predict how much carbon forests will store and release as the climate changes, potentially informing future conservation efforts.

Craig Miller

Craig Miller

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