From mushroom zombies in HBO series The Last of Us to psilocybin’s medical properties, fungi are all the rage. But are they aiding the trees populating the planet’s forests in communicating via a fungus-fueled “wood-wide web”? Probably not, according to researchers from the University of Alberta. The belief that trees can “speak” to each other has become the talk of the town, but these ideas may be more fantasy than fact.
The theory that underground fungi — known as common mycorrhizal networks (CMN) — can facilitate communication among, share resources between and even provide protection to trees, has been around since Suzanne Simard’s famous research was published in the late ‘90s. However, these claims may not be fully supported by scientific proof, according to a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
To evaluate these popular claims, the researchers reviewed evidence from existing field studies on CMNs, each of which resulted with little to no scientific evidence to support the suggested abilities. One of the claims, that CMNs are widespread in forests, can not be scientifically supported since there has not been enough research on CMN structure and its function in forests.
The researchers also found a second questionable claim, which says CMNS are beneficial because they help transfer nutrients and provide a boost of growth from adult trees to seedlings. After reviewing 26 studies, they found instead that CMNs don’t necessarily bring about that flow of nutrients and there was equal evidence that a connection to a CMN could actually hamper seedlings.
While theories relating to the “wood-wide web” may put the fun in fungi, the researchers say overblown or understudied information can disfigure the narrative about CMNs, which could negatively affect how forests are managed.
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