Read This: The NYT on The Secret Life of Trees

Photo: Brendan George Ko, New York Times Magazine

This week’s New York Times Magazine includes a fascinating read by Ferris Jabr (with incredible photos by Brendan George Ko) about the work of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard.  Simard’s career began when studying for her Ph.D. she examined the fungal links between Douglas fir and paper birch in the forests of her childhood home in British Columbia.  Her peers at the time questioned the choice: “They thought it was all very girlie.”  But it developed into a life’s work on how trees “communicate” in the forest via underground fungal threads.  Simard believes that trees are “Very perceptive of who’s growing around them. I’m really interested in whether they perceive us.” Simard’s own book, “Finding the Mother Tree,” comes out next May — it’s a memoir of her “lifelong quest” to prove that “the forest was more than just a collection of trees.”

Why This Matters: Simard’s research has provoked “one of the oldest and most intense debates in biology: Is cooperation as central to evolution as competition?”  Jabr writes that “some scientists have advocated, sometimes controversially, for a greater focus on cooperation over self-interest and on the emergent properties of living systems rather than their units.” Is there a greater lesson here for how competition and the tragedy of the commons have made the planet sick, and how we humans will need to heal it through cooperation?

To Go Deeper: Watch Simard’s Ted Talk here.

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