James Cameron’s 2009 film User picture is fiction, but the biological neural network at its core is inspired by science. For example 1997 nature had published a cover story on research on the sharing of “fungal symbionts from tree to tree, yes from species to species in a temperate forest”.
This was the PhD thesis of Susanne Simard and although it took until this summer for her first book to appear – Find the mother tree: discover the wisdom and intelligence of the forest – The ideas in it have already traveled a lot through their persistent scientific publications as well as public relations work through interviews, podcasts, documentaries and TED talks.
Not all forests are created equal. Life in old forests differs from the plantations that were created after the deforestation. The former are rich in subterranean fungal networks that enable the exchange of nutrients and even hazard information. Here the old trees help the young, diversity increases productivity and resilience.
Various methods are used to track all of these symbiotic / mycorrhizal / mycelial exchanges. One of these is the injection of carbon-14 and carbon-13 isotopes into different seedlings, which are heavier but less common than the common carbon-12 and therefore used as a tracer for the behavior of carbon-12 in photosynthesis and sugar transport can be. Simard feels like he’s intercepting a covert conversation that can change the course of history.
Louie Schwartzberg‘s documentary Fantastic mushrooms, which features many scientists like Simard examining the undergrowth, uses meticulous ultra-slow motion to capture the life of mushrooms. His theory is that if people can see what is otherwise too small and too slow to see, it can open up their worldview that the solution to the challenge of climate change really needs.
In the documentary, you’ll see the decomposition of the forest floor in great detail that produces beautiful mushrooms, and then hear about promising research that can be replicated even with oil spills. Even plastics. The next penicillin is here somewhere too. But that means learning the wisdom of the ancient forests and not destroying them until we are barely immersed in them.
Simard’s book emphasizes opposition to such ideas, not only from the mainstream industry, but also from the scientific community. Their study areas were called girls, their anthropomorphisms mocked. One reviewer dismissed them as “people who think they can just dance through the woods and look at trees”.
Schwartzberg explains that this is because, while most of the stories about nature in our culture are thoroughly macho, predator versus prey type, even though nature has committed us to protecting what we love. We have yet to accept that the true story of nature is feminine – reciprocity, pollination, partnerships.
The cutting down or burning of primeval forests turns them from old carbon sinks into another source of carbon. Simard advises policymakers to focus on extracting resources from where the loss has already occurred. Even in the new plantations, the pursuit of diversity rather than monocultures is being sought and considering leaving the largest trees intact in order to stimulate new biomes.
This research is therefore not only about what needs to be preserved, but also about the various possibilities of environmental remediation. Support the ability of forests to heal destroyed ecosystems, help the soil to overcome fungal and microbial systems, metals and other pollutants. There are still signs that the earth can forgive.
Disclaimer of liability
The views expressed above are the author’s own.
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