Trees Prove That Life Isn't Just about Survival of the Fittest

Trees are far from dumb; they talk and share, because they need each other to live better lives. 

Illustration by Julia Suits


1. A lone tree does not live as long. That fact could shift views of how the whole tree of life works.

2. Trees are social, reveals Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, they “talk” and share.

3. For instance, trees warn one another of insect attacks (scents) and exchange signals via roots.

4. More amazingly, trees operate "gigantic redistribution systems.” In their “social security” system "nutrient exchange and helping neighbors… is the rule.”

5. Vast underground fungal networks (a “wood wide web” interweaving the roots of many species) enables trees with an "abundance of sugar" to help those "running short."

6. These fungal networks can tax “up to a third of” a tree’s total food production. (A “humongous fungus” is the world’s largest living thing ~2.4 miles).

7. So much for Richard Dawkins' claim that “there is no welfare state in nature.”

8. “Forests are superorganisms" (and "isolated trees have far shorter lives")

9. As microbiome research has shown “symbiosis isn’t rare. It’s the rule.” All natural animals and plants use collaboration.

10. The "red in tooth and claw" view of biology needs to be updated, says David G. Haskell in The Forest Unseen. Nature’s “economy has as many trade unions as robber barons.”

11. The idea that biology is dominated by individual genomes ruthlessly competing is turning out to be “pleasant fiction” (Ed Yong).

12. A gene’s survival “vehicle” (the genes that every selfish gene must cooperate with to survive) typically extends beyond its body. Those survival vehicles can include its herd, or in our “by nature self-deficient” case, our “teammates”.

 --

Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.

Higher ed isn’t immune to COVID-19, but the crisis will make it stronger

The pandemic reminds us that our higher education system, with all its flaws, remains a key part of our strategic reserve.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • America's higher education system is under great scrutiny as it adapts to a remote-learning world. These criticisms will only make higher ed more innovative.
  • While there are flaws in the system and great challenges ahead, higher education has adapted quickly to allow students to continue learning. John Katzman, CEO of online learning organization Noodle Partners, believes this is cause for optimism not negativity.
  • Universities are pillars of scientific research on the COVID-19 frontlines, they bring facts in times of uncertainty and fake news, and, in a bad economy, education is a personal floatation device.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

Should churches be considered essential businesses?

A debate is raging inside and outside of churches.

Demonstrators holding signs demanding their church to reopen, protest during a rally to re-open California and against Stay-At-Home directives on May 1, 2020 in San Diego, California.

Photo by Sandy Huffaker / AFP via Getty Images
Culture & Religion
  • Over 1,200 pastors in California claim they're opening their churches this week against state orders.
  • While church leaders demand independence from governmental oversight, 9,000 Catholic churches have received small business loans.
  • A number of re-opened churches shut back down after members and clergy became infected with the novel coronavirus.
Keep reading Show less

What can your microwave tell you about your health?

An MIT system uses wireless signals to measure in-home appliance usage to better understand health tendencies.

John Moore/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

For many of us, our microwaves and dishwashers aren't the first thing that come to mind when trying to glean health information, beyond that we should (maybe) lay off the Hot Pockets and empty the dishes in a timely way.

Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…