The "Wood" Wide Web

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The “Wood Wide Web” 🌳🍄🌳
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Imagine that under a single foot at any one time there is up to 300 miles of thread-like strings. The “strings” are living, and connect to the roots of 90% of all land plants. These “living strings” give plants water and nutrients from the soil. In exchange, the plant gives the strings sugars. Both are engaged in a symbiotic partnership and are not able to completely get these things themselves without each other. 
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Turns out, no imagination is really needed for this phenomenon. These living “strings” are real, and they are known as “mycelium”. While mushrooms are definitely the most known aspect of the fungi kingdom, it is only a small portion of a fungal organism. It is actually the mycelium network that makes up most of the organism. Similar to most networks, the mycelium is responsible for transmitting communication, in this case, between plants.
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It can be strange to think plants are utilizing a natural underground communication bio-technology to interact with each other similar to our “internet”. Also similarly to our internet, It’s even stranger to find out that they use it to actually SHARE or STEAL resources from each other, and in some sinister cases, even poison each other.
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Studies have shown that different tree species will transfer essential nutrients via the mycelia to those that need it more, like small young trees. In this case, the “survival of the fittest” may be an archaic perspective that no longer holds completely true.

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Besides sharing resources, the fungal network is used to warn other organisms of impending threats. This was found when plant seedlings of a species who were not under attack by aphids initiated anti-aphid chemical defenses. These seedlings were, in fact, connected by a mycelium network to plants being attacked by aphids.

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However, there is also a dark side to this network. Some plants, like the phantom orchid, will actually steal resources from surrounding plants. Even more sinister, some species, including some of Eucalyptus, will release chemicals that harm rivaling plants. 
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This all only describes one classification of fungi; the mycorrhizal fungi. There are many more types of fungi. Probably second most popular, saprotrophs, which grow-on dead things.

 

 

ben lillibridge