The Wood-Wide Web
In my previous blog, ‘Photographing Fungi’, I briefly mentioned that they play a vital role in communications between plants and each other. The system they use to share information and nutrients along tiny mycelium pathways is collectively called a ‘mycorrhizal network’. Beneath our feet, a hidden world lies where the plants and trees are talking to one another, trading resources, and thriving with a collective effort!
What is Mycelium?
Mycelium is defined as ‘the vegetive part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments’, so mycelium branches out from the base of a fungus, like the roots of a tree. Under the soil there are boundless networks of mycelium. In fact, for every step you take there are about 300 miles of these fungal pathways underneath you. Mycorrhizal networks be compared to neuropathways, although it’s got many more networks than the brain, it operates in much the same way with electrical pulses.
It’s not all happy and congenial in the forest…
There is competition in the plant kingdom just as there is within the animal kingdom. When multiple species of plant are all tapped into the same mycorrhizal network, they may not supply as much into the fungi, because the fungi are benefitting from competitors. This way, they have hopes to take down the other plants that are using up valuable resources. Plants can also send out toxins through the mycorrhizal networks to kill off other plants that are a threat to their survival, and likely do this just as much as they send out nutrients to help fellow species!
Fungi fighting climate change!
The Wood-Wide Web has all kinds of implications for forest health as well as fighting global warming. Mycelium holds a lot of the carbon that trees store underground, helping to stabilise carbon levels in the soil. The Earth’s atmosphere reaps the benefits of the relationship between plants and fungi, as fungi hold carbon beneath the soil a lot longer than plants can on their own! Our Earth relies on these invisible networks of fungi to fight off climate change.
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Maeve Cushla, Young Curator, PK Porthcurno
Header Photo: Maeve Cushla
• Gabbatis, J. (no date) Can the wood-wide web really help trees talk to each other?, BBC Science Focus Magazine. Available at: https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/mycorrhizal-networks-wood-wide-web/ (Accessed: 9 December 2021).
• María (2017) The Organic Internet of a Mycelium Network: Suzanne Simard, Paul Stamets, and Terence Mackenna. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGyECGJqWDU (Accessed: 2 November 2021).
• Roetzel, L.J. (no date) How fungi can help fight climate change, One Earth. Available at: https://www.oneearth.org/how-fungi-can-help-fight-climate-change (Accessed: 9 December 2021).
• Shwartz, L. (2019) Fantastic Fungi. Moving Art.
• Simard, S. (2017) Nature’s internet: how trees talk to each other in a healthy forest | Suzanne Simard | TEDxSeattle. TEDxSEattle. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=breDQqrkikM (Accessed: 2 November 2021).
• The Mycelium Internet: How Fungi Connects The Web Of Life (no date). Available at: https://www.animist.eco/mycelium (Accessed: 2 November 2021).