Plants and Trees Communicate Through an Unseen Web
Plants can even ward off invaders through “Earth’s natural internet.”
Ever borrow something from a friend or neighbor? You gossip while there too, right? Perhaps even align yourselves against a common enemy. The “Wood wide web,” can do all of this for plants. Fungi are made up of tiny threads called mycelium. These travel underground, connecting the roots of different plants in an area, even different species, together, allowing them to communicate and so much more. Some researchers say the trees of the forest and the mushrooms we find growing next to them are so interconnected, that it is hard for them to see trees as individual entities any longer.
Though this may sound like news to some, indications of “Earth’s natural internet” go back to the 19th century, beginning with German biologist Albert Bernard Frank. He is the first to discover a symbiotic relationship between fungal colonies and the roots of plants. Frank created the term "mycorrhiza" to describe this symbiosis. Today we know that approximately 90% of all land-based plants are connected through what is called the mycorrhizal network.
Fungi and trees are so interconnected, some scientists believes they should not be viewed as separate organisms.
Since the 1960s we’ve known that fungi aid in plant growth. Since then, scientists have learned that they also help plants locate water and provide certain nutrients through mycelia strands around their roots. The fungal networks protect plants from infection too, by providing protective compounds, stored in the roots, which are triggered should the plant be attacked. This phenomenon, called “priming,” makes the immune system of the plant far more effective. In return, plants feed their fungi carbohydrates on a consistent basis.
Besides defense, it also serves as a communication network, connecting even to plants which are far away. Paul Stamets first had the idea of such a network in the 1970s, while studying fungi under an electron microscope. He found that there were startling similarities between the precursor to the internet, the US defense department’s ARPANET, and these fungal networks. Yet, it took decades of research to uncover the sheer breadth of the phenomenon. Other scientists have since likened it to an animal’s nervous system.
In 1983, two studies proved that poplars and sugar maple trees warn each other about worrisome insects. When one tree becomes infested, it warns others who begin producing anti-insect chemicals, to protect against attack. These signals are sent through the air. Even then, the splinter group of scientists studying this phenomenon were for decades waved away. Since the late 90’s however, such researchers have proven that trees transfer carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients, back and forth via mycelia. Today, though only a scant few study it, the phenomenon is no longer in doubt.
Mycorrhizal threads. Photo by The Alpha Wolf CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia discovered nutrient exchanges between Douglas fir trees and paper birches. She believes it goes even farther than this. Simard says that small, younger trees are helped through the network by larger, older ones. Without such aid, she said, seedlings wouldn’t stand a chance. Simard found in one study that food strapped seedlings stuck in the shade received carbon from nearby trees to help them along.
Of course, Simard isn’t suggesting that plants have consciousness or that they are individuals in any sense. But they are interacting and helping one another survive. Other experts warn that although we are aware of such exchanges, to what extent they occur remains unclear.
In 2010, Ren Sen Zeng, a researcher at South China Agricultural University, proved that plants communicate through the mycelia network. Zeng and colleagues found that when infected with blight, tomato plants release a chemical signal to warn others nearby. These plants also “eavesdrop” on neighbors, to determine when to build up their defenses against oncoming pathogens. A 2013 study found that broad beans also signaled neighbors through the fungal network, this time due to an aphid infestation. But not all interactions are helpful. There is a dark side to the mycorrhizal network, too.
Mycelium. Photo by Rob Hille [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A phantom orchid for instance cannot produce its own energy. Instead, it steals carbon from trees close by in order to survive, accessing the nutrients via the mycelia threads connecting them. Other orchids, known as “mixotrophs” can photosynthesize, but steal from others when it suits them. Plants also at times compete for resources such as light and water. When this occurs, some release toxins to slow their competitors encroachment in a process is called, "allelopathy." Certain species of Eucalyptus, , American sycamores, acacias, and sugarberries are known to do this. The chemicals they release travel the network and block nearby plants from establishing themselves, or reduce the number of friendly microbes at their roots to impede their opponent’s growth.
Some experts theorize that animals may be taking advantage of the fungal network for their own ends. The same chemicals that bring helpful fungi and bacteria to a plant’s roots might also signal worms and other harmful organisms looking for a snack. But this theory to date hasn’t been tested. Some say the fungal network gives us another example of how interconnected all life on Earth actually is and how each organism depends on another and in turn is depended upon. It also makes us question whether such actions constitute behavior, and what motivated plants to link up to begin with, and for fungi to lend a hand in the endeavor.
To learn more about how plants communicate click here:
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The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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