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The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

#187: May - July 2023 (Non-Fiction)
Book Discussion Leader: Robert Tulip
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Robert Tulip

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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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LanDroid wrote: Thu May 11, 2023 4:03 pm for social creatures (and who knew trees are in this category?), cooperation assists survival more than chopping down the competition. (Although arguments about group Vs. individual selection may be reignited.)
Chapter Three is a parable about how forests provide lessons for society. The surprising observation that a chaotic wild forest can grow more timber than a managed plantation reflects how trees have evolved to cooperate, and how diversity and complexity offer protection from risk. Forest science devoted to maximising yield may obviously be better for producing identical commercial logs, but the monoculture of a plantation means the trees lose benefits from their natural evolution, notably the ability to cooperate through underground fungal networks. It reminds me of the modern culture of individualism, where competition between people is thought to deliver the best results but appears to have lost many of the benefits from traditional societies.

Calling trees "creatures" reflects the origin of the word creature as any living organism, although this word has evolved into 'critter' which excludes plants.

Group versus individual selection is the main theme of Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth, as I mentioned. I have found the arguments for group selection compelling, whereas the arguments against it from Richard Dawkins and other biologists appear based more on emotion than reason.

ChatGPT gives this helpful summary of the mainstream view.
The question of whether group selection is possible in natural evolution is a subject of debate among biologists. Group selection is the idea that evolution can act on groups of organisms, rather than just individuals, and that traits that benefit the group as a whole can be favored even if they are detrimental to individual fitness.

While there are some examples of group-level selection in nature, many biologists believe that individual selection is the primary driver of evolution. This is because natural selection acts on individual organisms, which compete with one another for limited resources and reproductive opportunities. Traits that confer an advantage to individual fitness are more likely to be passed on to future generations than those that do not, even if they may be beneficial to the group as a whole.

Some biologists have proposed that group selection may play a role in certain circumstances, such as when populations are small or when there is a high degree of relatedness between individuals. However, the majority of evolutionary biologists believe that individual selection is the most important force driving evolution, and that group selection is a relatively rare occurrence.
The Hidden Life of Trees seems to provide strong evidence for group selection, with the forest operating as a super organism to advantage traits that benefit the forest as a whole rather than individual trees.
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/ ... gest-tree/

Wow you should listen to the above 17 minute segment about Pando, the world's largest tree and the sounds it creates. "Pando is one massive tree—sprawling more than 100 acres, with 47,000 branches growing from it."

You can have a 360 degree look at Pando here:
https://www.friendsofpando.org/

The Hidden Life of Trees discusses sound in a few places. Some of this is speculative.
When I said at the beginning of this chapter that trees are silent, the latest scientific research casts doubt even on this statement.
...It's not practical to study trees in the laboratory; therefore, researchers substitute grain seedlings because they are easier to handle. They started listening, and it didn't take them long to discover that their measuring apparatus was registering roots crackling quietly at a frequency of 220 hertz.
...Whenever the seedlings' roots were exposed to a crackling at 220 hertz, they oriented their tips in that direction. That means the grasses were registering this frequency, so it makes sense to say they "heard" it.
Chapter 2 pgs 12 - 13
...there is research in the field that reveals more than just behavioral changes: when trees are really thirsty, the begin to scream. If you're out in the forest, you won't be able to hear them, because this all takes place at ultrasonic levels.
...Vibrations occur in the trunk when the flow of water from the roots to the leaves is interrupted. This is a purely mechanical event and it probably doesn't mean anything. And yet?
...it seems to me that these vibrations could indeed be much more than just vibrations - they could be cries of thirst. The trees might be screaming out a dire warning to their colleagues that water levels are running low.
Chapter 8 page 48
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chapter Four – Love

How do they do it? Beech and oak forests in Germany are at war with wild boars and deer and squirrels. If the forests were to just release the same number of nuts every year, the animals would win, by gradually increasing their population and eating all the nuts that fall. So it seems the trees scheme and plan to outwit the pigs through a slightly random mass love-in. I say “seems” because you would think this is just a mindless mechanical result of natural evolution. But what happens in this natural war is hard to explain. Some years, known as mast years, the whole forest coordinates its flowering so there are far too many acorns and beechnuts for the pigs and deer to eat, so at least some seedlings will survive. Other years they don’t flower at all, with the result the animals have tiny litters. This natural synchronisation does not seem to be explicable just as a response to environmental cues. This article https://theconversation.com/tons-of-aco ... ear-126711 explains that chemical cues transmitted between trees through their roots as described in The Hidden Life of Trees seem to enable a forest to decide if the conditions are right for a mast year, but the reasons remain complex and mysterious.
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chapter Five – The tree lottery

Consider, if a species of tree maintains a stable population, then on average one seed from each tree grows to maturity. A poplar tree produces a billion seeds over its lifetime. Therefore, the probability of any given seed producing a mature tree is about one in a billion.

This seems grossly wasteful in evolutionary terms. Especially considering that producing seeds comes at high cost in energy and vulnerability to pests and disease. All that work making flowers could have gone into making leaves that help the tree to grow.

Why put all that energy into making seeds that will not achieve anything? The answer is that evolution has a remorseless absolute logic, whereby whichever adaptive strategy is best will dominate. An individual tree that produces less seeds than average is more likely to have none of them mature, so its genes will go extinct. All trees of these species therefore have an incentive to indulge in extraordinary extravagance.
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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Here is a new Australian radio interview with Peter Wohlleben about his new book https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/pr ... /102391798
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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I am now in England on a holiday, and this morning walked through Orrest Forest at Windermere in The Lake District on the northwest coast. The oak and beech trees in this forest above a carpet of bluebells and bracken reminded me of the German forest in The Hidden Life of Trees. Although it seems old and wild, the forest areas are actually tiny, surrounded by fields. There are some groves of ancient trees, but the fact this forest was gifted to the public by a landowner at the start of the twentieth century suggests much of it was paddock until then, and the trees are mostly only adolescent. It seems likely that the recovery of the soil fungal networks can be quick when animals are removed after previous land clearing for grazing.
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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In Chapter Six, Slowly Does It, Peter Wohlleben tells of a small beech tree, just six feet tall. He estimated it was about ten years old, but studying the nodes on its branches revealed it was over 80.

Young forest trees are shaded by their parents, preventing them from growing rapidly. In a thick deciduous forest, the green light that reaches the forest floor is as good as black for young trees – the green colour of chlorophyll is caused by the fact that leaves use every other colour in the spectrum except green, which they reflect back. It appears that trees have to start off slow in order to live to an old age, 500 years or so.

A natural forest is completely different from a plantation. In a timber plantation, adolescent trees are harvested at age of one century, whereas in a real forest, trees of that age are only as thick as a pencil. Such slow growth means they are extremely strong and resistant to disease, resistant to breaking in storms, with hardy roots.

As for a human being, a good upbringing helps ensure a long life. Trees have to wait for centuries before the old shade trees above them fall over. They have bitter pale leaves suited to the dark conditions. But they are kept in good health during this long wait because the canopy climax trees share the nutrients through their root system.

When the old tree falls, only those youngsters that suddenly shift to vertical growth as fast as possible have a chance. Many are overshadowed, many are eaten, but a few make it. The hole in the canopy will be filled by young trees that were already biding their time and building their root system and hard trunk for a century or more, not by newly sprouted seedlings.
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Re: The Hidden Life of Trees: Chapters 1 - 6

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Chris OConnor wrote: Sat May 06, 2023 9:44 pm As I mentioned earlier, I'm listening to this book on Audible, primarily when driving. It's a bit frustrating to keep hearing things that I question or want to discuss, but I'm going 75 mph on the Interstate. The way Peter Wohlleben sounds, he looks at the forest as almost conscious, as you mention, Robert. This doesn't sit well with me for many reasons. But I'll wait till I'm deeper into the book to opine on a topic that I know next to nothing about.

How is it possible that trees help feed each other? I mean, that's crazy. But it seems true. Someone please explain, in evolutionary terms, how nature could select for such a behavior. Basically, the trees take care of each other. But why? How?

It's almost like human altruism. We are good, and take care of one another, because doing so is in the social group's, and the individuals, best interest. But conscious or subconscious thought seems to be involved with humans. We think, possibly subconsciously, that we're going to treat our neighbors well, so that they do the same with us.

But how does a tree know to help it's neighbors? Is there a mechanism in place to kill off tree species that fail to reciprocate?

I'm sure the answer is simple, and I'm just not wrapping my head around it...yet.
It surprises me as well to know that trees help one another to survive. I never knew how important it is for the trees to live in the forest and keep other trees alive so that they'll have this 'good number of trees to have a canopy that will keep the forest floor moist and healthy'. :)
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