Being highly connected to a strong social network has its benefits. Now a new University of Alberta study is showing the same goes for trees, thanks to their underground neighbours.
The study, published in the Journal of Ecology, is the first to show that the growth of adult trees is linked to their participation in fungal networks living in the forest soil.
Though past research has focused on seedlings, these findings give new insight into the value of fungal networks to older trees–which are more environmentally beneficial for functions like capturing carbon and stabilizing soil erosion.
“Large trees make up the bulk of the forest, so they drive what the forest is doing,” said researcher Joseph Birch, who led the study for his PhD thesis in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.
When they colonize the roots of a tree, fungal networks act as a sort of highway, allowing water, nutrients and even the compounds that send defence signals against insect attacks to flow back and forth among the trees.