The deeper I dig into nature, the more I discover how little I know. I recently started working at a garden center and I love it – but there is still much to learn… for example, a man called the other day and asked if we carry pheromones…
“Pheromones?” I asked, wondering if he was calling the right store.
He repeated: “Ya, pheromones – you know, for gypsy moths?”
The man was talking about traps baited with the pheromones of the female gypsy moth, meant to lure in males and deter the insect from rearing caterpillars, which would later go on to defoliate trees.
While our human-made traps are effective, trees also have their own defense system. When one tree is under attack, it releases something called methyl jasmonate, which is indigestible for insects. It acts as a warning sign: the surrounding trees detect the chemical and begin releasing their own compounds, putting up their defenses.
So trees speak to one another – COOL!
I kept digging to discover a much larger communication network in nature: the Wood Wide Web.
The idea of a ‘Wood Wide Web’ was inspired by an unsuspecting man by the name of Paul Stamets, a dedicated and brilliant mycologist, without a PhD but fully equipped with the intimate familiarity and deep curiosity for fungal networks.
In the early 1990’s, Stamets first proposed the idea that entire forests can exchange and distribute nutrients through a mutualistic relationship to mushrooms. Mycelial networks can sometime stretch for miles within a forest floor, sending and receiving information; mycelium act as Earth’s natural internet. At first, skeptics scoffed at Stamets’ idea until, only a few years later, it evolved into multiple research projects exploring and then confirming the validity of this claim.
Trees can communicate with each other – about dangers like insect infestations, but also droughts or flooding; they can share information and send resources back into the network for others.
How does a self-taught mycologist propose a hypothesis that completely revolutionizes the way we think about forests and, also, nature? He taps into the brilliance of earth’s natural internet! While the connections from the Wood Wide Web include a dismal ending for the gypsy moths, we can learn a lot from how trees respond to threat.
As a species, the greatest threat we face is climate change.
Can we embrace Stamets’ approach and dig deeper into the subtle connections and patterns we see in nature? Can we use this knowledge to design our own defenses to the threats we face as a species?
Going Green had the opportunity to sit down with a company called Mycocycle who is doing just that!
Many people just think of mushrooms as decomposers, but Mycocyle expands upon this elementary concept to invent a treatment for breaking down man-made materials and chemicals! By tapping into the intelligence of mushrooms, Mycocyle is able to divert demolition waste from landfills and upcycle the remaining material to be used in new construction.
As landfills creep closer and closer to our suburban safe-havens, we need to answer a big question: “What will we do with all our waste?” Mycocycle embraces the lessons learned from nature to confront this problem.
Be curious about the things you observe in nature – it can open the doors of possibility! For the questions science can’t immediately answer, we can tap into Earth’s natural internet and find the solutions.
Going Green, hosted by Dylan Welch, interviews leading experts in cleantech, sustainability, media, finance, and real estate on the Going Green podcast. Tune in and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify to listen to interviews with leading cleantech and sustainable experts. If you are interested in being featured on Going Green, click HERE.