The secret language that allows trees to create an entire ecosystem

The secret language that allows trees to create an entire ecosystem

A single tree cannot make a whole forest. However, the trees together, using a secret language, are able to create ecosystems that buffer extreme heat and cold, store water and produce humid air.

The answer to how they achieve this is in their roots, where they form a super structure similar to an anthill through which information is communicated about various dangers such as lack of water and nutrients and even the presence of a fire.

Tree society

The president of Fundación Mexicana del Arbol, Teobaldo Eguiluz, explains to EFE that the tree society is very similar to human beings, since in it each member is important to their community, has their own role and is worth keeping alive as long as possible.

For example, they protect the sickest among themselves, providing them with nutrients until they are better, the same mechanism they use with the youngest specimens.

“The tree is like a house, even the trees communicate by their roots with their children and with their distant or close relatives. They can feed their children through the roots when they are very young and do not reach the light and therefore cannot photosynthesize themselves ”, details the forest geneticist.

Then he adds that "they also help old people who no longer have the possibility of supporting themselves."

The tree also coexists with "a microfauna" composed of fungi, bacteria and viruses "that is interconnected with it."


Along these lines, the state manager of the National Forestry Commission (Conafor) in Mexico City, Gustavo López Mendoza, indicates to EFE that all this communication occurs because the roots of the trees live in symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi.

“The tree uses solar energy to generate carbohydrates and sugars through chlorophyll, which is a substance that they synthesize. They do not use it, they produce it for their partner symbiotes that live underground, the fungi, since they are not exposed to light and cannot photosynthesize ”, he explains.

Therefore, the tree supplies all these carbohydrates and sugars so that the fungus can bear fruit and disperse its spores.

In return, he adds, "fungi, through their roots, their root hairs, supply the minerals in the soil that are essential for the tree to form wood, that is, carbon."

If this exchange goes well, the mycorrhizae, hectomycorrhizae and hectoendomichorizae will provide the trees with all the chemical elements that the plant requires to grow: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, boron and copper.

Filament network

The research professor of the Forest Sciences division at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, José Armando Gil, tells EFE that in addition to breaking down organic matter, fungi develop through a network of ultra-fine filaments called hyphae.

These are very long, a gram of soil has 100 meters of hyphae.

"They are so thin and thin that it helps all the trees to communicate with each other," he says.

However, Gil points out that when the forest has some kind of deficiency, the parasitic fungus known as armillaria or honey fungus develops.

This is responsible for "white rot", which attacks the roots of trees in forests and is distinguished from positive mycorrhizae by its parasitic nature.

In 2000, the armillaria ostoyae killed 900 hectares of trees in Oregon (United States).

The reason was that the extreme humidity conditions created too much shade continuously for many years and that ended up killing the entire forest.

The hyphae were in charge of communicating to the trees that a negative fungus was penetrating.

“When there are fires or abnormal temperatures, information is sent that something is wrong in the ecosystem, this information comes very quickly through the hyphae, which have a wide distribution within the soil and, sometimes, it is also given through receptors. chemicals, "he adds.

And is that the communication between the trees not only occurs on the ground but can also be through the air, explains Eguiluz.

The specialist adds that this happens "especially when there are fires, pests, storms or extreme environmental damage."

This causes the trees to communicate by releasing terpene phenols, chemical compounds that are released into the air and are perceived through the stomata of the leaves.

They absorb them, recognize them and detect the signals that they send them. These signals are thermodynamic and chemical reactions that they use to communicate.

The expert concludes by recalling that "it should not be forgotten that trees use all possible forms of energy that we cannot use as human beings."

By Martha Mejía

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