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
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.

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

What is the rarest blood type?

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

How space debris created the world’s largest garbage dump

Since 1957, the world's space agencies have been polluting the space above us with countless pieces of junk, threatening our technological infrastructure and ability to venture deeper into space.

Space debris orbiting Earth

Framestock via Adobe Stock
Technology & Innovation
  • Space debris is any human-made object that's currently orbiting Earth.
  • When space debris collides with other space debris, it can create thousands more pieces of junk, a dangerous phenomenon known as the Kessler syndrome.
  • Radical solutions are being proposed to fix the problem, some of which just might work. (See the video embedded toward the end of the article.)
Keep reading Show less

Looking for something? A team at MIT develop a robot that sees through walls

It uses radio waves to pinpoint items, even when they're hidden from view.

TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
In recent years, robots have gained artificial vision, touch, and even smell.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast