To share, whether it be bread or ideas, is an integral desire of humans. And as we gradually turn our heads away from our anthropological view of the world, we find other species demonstrate this unselfish quality, it seems its not all about competition, eat or be eaten.
New research into plant behavior finds that species in this kingdom also reach out to share with others, from their own kingdom as well as insects and animals.
The more recent ecological and environmental philosophy of Deep ecology encourages us to look at other species without using the anthropological lens, to try and discover their experience on the planet we share.
Goethe, other natural scientists and even philosophers have long studied in a phenomenological way where they observed species in their natural environment rather than dissecting and studying parts in the lab, this disconnected way has been the norm in science. However, there are now scientists who have a more holistic approach and are actually looking for connection and sharing in the vegetal world as well as the animal kingdom.
And they are finding the most fascinating facts. Man has long since held a reverence for trees but in recent years they have been embraced into the human psyche as there is realisation that their disappearance may have a direct relationship with the extinction of humans. Think Easter Island.
Planting a tree has become the new age symbol of supporting our planet and recognition of our dependency on plants.
The fairytale forest has been conjured as a magical place but now we are finding that films like Avator, where a Mother tree nutures the whole forest, is not so fantastical. There is whole network of tree communication underground through their root systems, affectionately called the wood wide web. Fungal strands called micorrhiza connect the roots further and the largest networks can extend out for several miles. This is a plan of how trees in a Douglas Fir forest are connected with no more than 3 degrees of separation.
Trees pass nutrients and signals to each other all the time and support each other, and just like us they support their own families first and foremost. Older trees send water to their own saplings in preference to other trees. Mother trees nurture their young.
And, in a striking example of interspecies co-operation, forest ecologist Suzanne Simard found that fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season. For the forest community, the value of this co-operative underground economy appears to be better over-all health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance.
The tree and the micorhizza funghi are a symbiotic system, a community working together to exchange nutrients. The fungi need carbon from the tree and the tree needs the nutrients fungi
can reach that their roots cant. The roots and the fungi link the trees together into a huge resource sharing community.
If your interest has been stimulated you will appreciate this BBC documentary.