New Jersey Conservation Foundation
 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation Menu
NJCF Homepage Contact Us Donate Events Search NJCF
New Jersey Land Conservation Organization
Donate to New Jersey Conservation Foundation
State We're In New Jersey Conservation Foundation Blog
Trees are more social than you think!
2/10/2017

What do you see when you look at a tree?

Perhaps you notice its age and wonder what events occurred in its lifetime. Maybe you think about the nesting birds it harbors or what value it would bring as lumber. You might admire the elegance of its branches and feel inspired by its beauty.

But did you ever think of a tree as a social being with the capacity to communicate with – and help – other trees?

Peter Wohlleben, author of the new book The Hidden Life of Trees, makes the case that trees are “unique individuals” that feel pain, learn from experience, make decisions, exchange information and nurse sick and injured brethren trees.

A German forester, Wohlleben studied research by scientists from around the world and concluded that humans are wrong in assuming trees lack intelligence because they don’t have brains.

Trees, he points out, live their lives “in the slow lane” … on a completely different time scale from humans. One of the world’s oldest trees is a spruce in Sweden believed to be more than 9,500 years old, or 115 times longer than the average human lifetime. Even relatively young trees 100 years old are older than most people!

In his book, Wohlleben uses human-friendly descriptions to explain the science of tree lives. He describes tree friendships, the “language” that trees use to communicate, and how being part of a community – a forest – helps trees live longer.

Wohlleben tells of stumbling upon a circular patch of “strange-looking mossy stones” in a preserve of beech trees. Upon investigation, he discovered that they weren’t stones at all, but the ancient remnants of a tree stump. When he scraped away some bark, he was amazed to find a greenish layer underneath, meaning the wood was still alive. But how could it survive without leaves?

“It must be getting assistance from neighboring trees, specifically from their roots,” he concluded. “Scientists investigating similar situations have discovered that assistance may either be delivered remotely by fungal networks around the root tips – which facilitate nutrient exchange between trees – or the roots themselves may be interconnected.”

One thing was clear to Wohlleben: the surrounding beeches were pumping sugar to the stump remains to keep it alive. He believes this is an example of trees helping each other through a social network, which he dubs the “wood wide web.”  His research further found that trees not only share food with their own species, but sometimes nourish other species.

Why would trees help other trees, which are competitors for sunlight and water?

“The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together,” Wohlleben wrote. “On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.”

If every tree were looking out only for itself, he notes, most would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, making it easier for storms to penetrate the forest and uproot even more trees.

Unseen by humans, the author said, trees communicate information to each other, even warning about danger.

Wohlleben tells about umbrella thorn acacia trees in Africa favored by giraffes. Once giraffes start nibbling, the acacias pump a toxic substance into their leaves to repel the animals. But that’s not all: the trees also emit a “warning gas” that tells neighboring acacia trees to start producing the same toxins. The giraffes seem to know this, Wohlleben said, and don’t bother stopping at nearby trees; they proceed to acacias too far away to have been forewarned.

Trees don’t rely exclusively on airborne scent to communicate. Wohlleben cites a study showing that trees also warn each other by sending chemical signals through the fungal networks around the root tips. Electrical impulses transmitted through roots are yet another way trees send “news bulletins” to each other.

Trees also have a sense of taste and can tell what insect predators are munching their leaves. “The saliva of each (insect) species is different, and trees can match the saliva to the insect,” wrote Wohlleben. The tree then releases the precise pheromones needed to summon beneficial predators. For example, elms and pines can summon small parasitic wasps that lay their eggs inside caterpillars, killing them.

Read Wohlleben’s book, and you’ll never look at trees the same way again! It may even inspire you to become a tree hugger, an old phrase now with new meaning.  

To learn more about the book, check out author interviews at the Yale Environment 360 website at http://e360.yale.edu/features/are_trees_sentient_peter_wohlleben and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1djibBPOfto.

Hug a tree today! And to learn about preserving New Jersey’s forests and open space, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at  www.njconservation.org or contact me at  info@njconservation.org

 

POSTS

New Jersey's official reptile, the bog turtle

Sea level rise and New Jersey: Not perfect together

These New Jersey plants have an appetite for insects

Explore the Pine Barrens through paddles, hikes and tours

Like to jog? 'Plog' instead and keep NJ clean

Love Jersey fruit? Thank our native pollinators!

Good news for globally rare swamp pink lilies

Say cheese! Remote cameras aid wildlife research

Begone, single-use plastic bags!

3,000 birds and counting for 'bluebird grandfather'

The Pine Barrens gets some help from its friends

A clean energy future for New Jersey

Cowtown and rare grassland birds, perfect together

Fight light pollution during International Dark Sky Week

New film tells story of how Petty's Island was saved

Ten years of nipping invasive species in the bud

Welcome spring in a county park

Go for a walk and feel better!

Grab a friend and go outside

Recycle your way to zero waste!

Last call for winter wildlife watching on Jersey coast

Without its 'understory' layer, the forest will collapse

From whale songs to poetry, a remarkable journey

A cleaner, greener New Jersey

Let's keep New Jersey the Garden State, not the Pipeline State

New Jersey's winter hikes

'Trees don't vote' but Byrne saved Pine Barrens anyway

Governor-elect Murphy should set new course on the environment

Protect soils to keep the garden in our state

Clean, plentiful water is New Jersey's lifeblood

A breath of fresh air for New Jersey?

Keep Liberty State Park free and open

A green agenda for Governor-elect Murphy

Life, liberty ... and a clean environment

New Jersey's aging water infrastructure

The land before time: NJ's Kittatinny Ridge & Valley

While bats hibernate, scientists hope for survival

Natural Resource Damages fund new parks and preserves

Save menhaden, a humble but mighty fish

Ballot question approval would lock in environmental funds

Sandy Millspaugh: Conservation Trailblazer

Extreme hurricanes highlight concerns about climate change

'Head start' for corn snakes

Protecting the Highlands - it's the water

When you could walk from New Jersey to Morocco

A bold plan for the planet

New Jersey's energy future at a crossroads

Tiny insect will have a huge impact on New Jersey

Protect New Jersey's Pine Barrens

Enjoy New Jersey's forests!

ARCHIVE

July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011

CLICK FOR RECENT POSTS


New Jersey Conservation Foundation on FacebookNew Jersey Conservation Foundation on TwitterNew Jersey Conservation Foundation on FlickrNew Jersey Conservation Foundation YouTube ChannelShare      
New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225           info@njconservation.org
home  | nj statewide eventscontact us  |  sitemap  |  privacy policy  |  DONATE