Interesting article. This must be connected, somehow, to cyanobacteria because of the exchange of phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon, and photosynthesis between plants. It will probably take another 10 years for the connections to be made and acknowledged by the experts. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.
In mycorrhizal associations, plants provide fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates. In exchange, the fungi help the plants suck up water, and provide nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, via their mycelia. Since the 1960s, it has been clear that mycorrhizae help individual plants to grow.
It has taken decades to piece together what the fungal internet can do. Back in 1997, Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found one of the first pieces of evidence. She showed that Douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer carbon between them via mycelia. Others have since shown that plants can exchange nitrogen and phosphorus as well, by the same route.
These plants are not really individuals
Simard now believes large trees help out small, younger ones using the fungal internet. Without this help, she thinks many seedlings wouldn’t survive. In the 1997 study, seedlings in the shade – which are likely to be short of food – got more carbon from donor trees.
“These plants are not really individuals in the sense that Darwin thought they were individuals competing for survival of the fittest,” says Simard in the 2011 documentary Do Trees Communicate? “In fact they are interacting with each other, trying to help each other survive.”
For one thing, some plants steal from each other using the internet. There are plants that don’t have chlorophyll, so unlike most plants they cannot produce their own energy through photosynthesis. Some of these plants, such as the phantom orchid, get the carbon they need from nearby trees, via the mycelia of fungi that both are connected to.
Other orchids only steal when it suits them. These “mixotrophs” can carry out photosynthesis, but they also “steal” carbon from other plants using the fungal network that links them.