For years, the concept of a “wood wide web” has suggested that plants, like humans, have a complex network facilitated by underground fungi. These mycorrhizal fungi connect the roots of different plants to form an extensive network that aids in communication, nutrient exchange, and more.
However, a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution challenges the existence of this network, as researchers argue that there is insufficient evidence to support the claims made about it.
Specifically, the study debunks three key claims, the first being that Common Mycorrhizal Networks (CMNs) are widespread throughout forests, which serves as the basis for the wood wide web theory. While researchers do not entirely reject the existence of CMNs, they are uncertain about the extent of the network as previously theorized.
Another claim that the researchers have debunked in the study pertains to the transfer of nutrients through mycorrhizal networks. Despite the longstanding belief that plants can share resources like nutrients through this network to help ailing or dead trees, several field studies have failed to provide sufficient evidence to support this claim.
The third claim that the study addresses is the communication between mature trees and their offspring via these networks. Previously, it was believed that older trees could communicate with their offspring by sending warning signals and passing on important information. However, the researchers have found little to no substantial evidence to support this claim.
According to the researchers, in the past 25 years, the number of unsupported claims regarding CMNs have only doubled. And this has happened due to biased reporting towards the positive effects of these networks.
The researchers believe it was a difficult but important study, as it will change the way we manage our forests, ecology in the future.