Did you hear about the “wood wide web” that describes the communication services provided by fungi to trees and plants? It is true that clusters of fungus colonize the roots of trees and plants and provide a very effective underground communication system. Many biologists have started using the term “wood-wide web to describe the communications services that fungi provide to plants and other organisms.” The fungi provide information and speed up interactions in the underground plant world to support mutually beneficial relationships to communicate and help each other out. But there could also be a propensity to harm it also allows them to commit new forms of crime. (Nic Fleming, 2014).
While trees are connected underground, they are not intertwined directly with other trees; they are connected by mushrooms. Most of their bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. These threads act as a kind of underground internet linking the roots of different plants. These networks can help neighboring trees and plants by sharing information and nutrients. When a fungus colonizes the roots of a plant, it triggers the production of defense-related chemicals. These make immune system responses quicker and more efficient through a phenomenon called “priming.” “In plant defense, priming is a physiological process by which a plant prepares to more quickly or aggressively respond to future biotic or abiotic stress.” The condition of readiness achieved by priming has been termed the “primed state” (Conrath et al., 2006).
In 1997, Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver showed that douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer carbon between them via mycelia. Plants can also exchange nitrogen and phosphorus. Simard now believes large trees help out small, younger ones using the fungal internet. Without this help, she thinks many seedlings wouldn’t survive. In a Ted Talk in January 2017, she talked about her experiment in the forest and discovered that trees interact in a forest, from not just as competitors but to cooperators.
Simply plugging into mycelial networks makes plants more resistant to disease. But there is also a dark side to this and the mycelial network may also sabotage plants by spreading toxic chemicals through this network. Many ecologists believe that trees compete against each other, that their world was, like, a Darwinian struggle with winners and losers.
Nic Fleming, “Plants Have a Hidden Internet,” Earth Story, BBC.com
Conrath, et al, Priming: Getting Ready for Battle, Mol Plant Microbe Interact, 19, pp 1062-1071, 2006.