There Would Be No Wood Wide Web Without Suzanne Simard & Her Fascinating Research Into HowTrees Communicate Via Fungi

The notion of the Wood Wide Web has passed into popular culture. But who first coined it?

The answer is Suzanne Simard. Here’s her story and her TED video.

Suzanne Simard, born in 1960, is a Canadian scientist and a professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Growing up amidst the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia, her Ph.D. is in Forest Sciences, which she took at Oregon State University. Before joining the University of British Columbia as a professor, Simard served as a research scientist at the British Columbia Ministry of Forests. So this is someone that has known trees from her childhood.

tree trunk and branches of Pinus radiata 
This tree is shown to illustrate the wok of Suzanne Simard

Renowned for her groundbreaking research, on how trees talk to each other, Simard ‘s research delves into the intricate underground networks of forests, where fungi and roots play pivotal roles in communication and interaction among trees and plants within ecosystems. Her work sheds light on the exchange of carbon, water, nutrients, and defence signals between trees.

Simard is also a leading figure in TerreWEB, an initiative designed to train graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in global change science and effective communication strategies.

Using rare carbon isotopes as tracers in both field and greenhouse experiments, Simard has unveiled the flow and sharing of carbon between individual trees and species. Notably, she discovered collaborative carbon sharing between birch and Douglas fir trees, illustrating the interconnected relationships within the forest ecosystem.

In her exploration of forest dynamics, Simard identified the concept of “mother trees” – the largest trees acting as central hubs in vast mycorrhizal networks underground. These mother trees support seedlings by infecting them with fungi and supplying essential nutrients for their growth. Simard’s research emphasizes the interdependence of forest ecologies with fungal mycelium, showcasing how trees exchange sugars and micronutrients through their root systems and interconnected mycelial structures.

Suzanne Simard’s Challenging Book

Simard’s book, “Finding the Mother Tree,” elucidates the significance of these ecological connections and challenges traditional approaches to woodland and forest management.

Furthermore, Simard’s work highlights interspecies cooperation, revealing instances where different tree species trade nutrients through the fungal web, contributing to overall health, increased photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbances.

Suzanne Simard & Science Communication

Beyond her scientific contributions, Suzanne Simard is a passionate advocate for science communication. She co-initiated the Communication of Science Program TerreWEB at the University of British Columbia, aimed at enhancing graduate students’ ability to communicate their research effectively.

Simard has engaged with broader audiences through various media, including TED talks (see the video below), documentaries, and interviews. Her book, which combines her discoveries about the life of trees with autobiographical notes, provides a compelling narrative of her impactful research.

In March 2022, Simard shared insights into her work and book, “Finding the Mother Tree,” on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, further emphasising her commitment to communicating the wonders of forest ecosystems to the public.

Suzanne Simard: A TED Talk

Research Sources: Suzanne Simard

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Tag: Suzanne Simard

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