Do Trees Talk To Each Other?

Written by Dirk Bakhuyzen III | Friday, September 5, 2014

Do trees talk to each other? For some people, even nature lovers, the idea is ludicrous, but recent results of certain scientific studies are changing the way researchers view plant communication.

The idea that trees communicate with each other was explored decades ago, but the methodology of the first studies was strongly criticized and this area of science was considered "debunked." However, newer rigorously managed studies have been done over the last few years, and tree "talking" as a concept is making a comeback

Of course, trees do not really "talk," but they do communicate with each other, particularly during times of stress. For instance, when insects chew up leaves, trees release volatile chemicals into the air that other trees detect. Then they activate their own chemical defenses so they are ready to repel potential attackers. At least 40 out of 48 studies have confirmed this sequence of reactions, and scientists are no longer questioning whether plants have the ability to sense danger to themselves and react.

Obviously this information has any number of implications for dealing with all kinds of problems with plant infestations such as the emerald ash borer, a pest that has devastated ash trees throughout the eastern half of the United States so far. However, decoded plant communication could impact any number of practical fields and professions such as farming. If scientists can determine why, how, and under what conditions plants, including trees, send out chemical signals, safer and cheaper pest control could be used to grow crops to maturity and increase yields. Many crop varieties, bred in the last half century to grow under challenging circumstances or be resistant to specific troublesome pests, have lost their ability to respond to other natural threats. If plants' communication and defense systems could be decoded, the list of possibilities for practical applications is endless.

In addition to communication by chemicals, trees produce audible sounds as a byproduct of their hydraulics, and scientists are beginning to learn what certain sounds signal and how those sounds can be used to assess plant health and predict morbidity. Two geologists in Arizona are in the process of building a plant "translator" and are excited about what their invention might reveal about climate change in this century.

Healthy trees add so much to communities - this is something we already know. That studying them could aid humans in developing better agricultural practice and help predict the future...well, that's unexpectedly amazing.

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