Barkbook & Twigger? German Forester Claims Trees Have Social Networks

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Me, apparently treading on the Wood Wide Web

The Wood Wide Web is in the news.

A New York Times article tells of a German forester, Peter Wohlleben, who believes that trees communicate intimately. That they have social networks.

What? Barkbook? Twigger? SapChat? Pineterest?

Wohlleben wrote a best-selling book in Germany, “Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World.” According to the Amazon blurb, trees, “Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group.”

Uh huh. Oooookaaaay. AYFKM? Anthropomorphizing plants to explain a concept is one thing but this takes it to a whole new level of absurd.

In the Times article, he looks at a pair of tall old beech trees, he says, “These trees are friends. You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”

“These trees are friends. You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”

How about the fact that trees use light in photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates? This process happens in the leaves. Leaves that produce food for the tree stay, those that don’t produce food for the tree wither and die and eventually the branch falls away.

How about phototropism? Plants bend toward light because that is used to power photosynthesis that produces the plant’s food?

How about the two beech trees started as seedlings and vigorously competed for light, water, and nutrients and found what they needed in areas away from each other?

How about Occam’s Razor?  when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.”

As for the Wood Wide Web; basically, Wohlleben has offered up a mystical explanation for the result of evolution. Yes mycorrhizal fungi do help plant roots take in water and nutrients; they evolved to do so. Because plants collaborate and compete does not mean they planned anything or that they have a sentient purpose.

“All life on Earth is connected and related to each other,” because of evolution says Brian Richmond, curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This connection happened through changes in individuals caused by changes in environment or need. Consider the ability of people to drink milk from other animals, people have this ability now because their ancestors herding animals and began drinking non-human milk. Some individuals tolerated this new source of nourishment better than others. They felt better and passed along this ability to their descendants.

The Wood Wide Web should be called the Woo Wide Web.

References

Frazer, Jennifer. “Dying Trees Can Send Food to Neighbors of Different Species.” Scientific American. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/artful-amoeba/dying-trees-can-send-food-to-neighbors-of-different-species/.

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