Welcome to the Wood-Wide Web
Janine Benyus, in an interview in Trim Tag Magazine (see previous BENTHOS post), talked about the Wood-Wide Web:
“If you’ve been taught in forestry that every tree is out there for itself, eventually you realize that they are all connected underground by a mycorrhizal net called the “Wood Wide Web”. They are exchanging nutrients, water and chemical alarm signals about pests with one another. They are connected even though they are not genetically related.
“This is something that we teach. We hear a lot of gasps and shocks when we discuss mutualisms because it basically goes against how economics is taught. It’s not a go-it-alone world out there as I was taught.”
The Wood-Wide Web is the interconnected world of plant roots and fungal filaments call mycelium. As Janine points out, we used to think that each plant, each fungus, each organism was separate. We knew about mutualisms, but weren’t aware of this degree of sharing–nutrients, water, information. The mushrooms you see on the ground are just the fruiting bodies of much larger, more widely spread organisms.
The value of looking to mycorrhizal networks for biomimetic applications became apparent during two design challenges organized in 2010 by the Designers Accord and featured on Fast Company. In each of them, at least one of the systems mimicked was that of the mycorrhizae. In TOA Uses Fungi to Reimagine Sustainable Neighborhoods, designers noticed that, “the flow of energy, materials, nutrients, and information beneath are all very complex, and the mycelium forms intimate symbiotic relations with all of them–just like the interconnected systems of water, transit, energy, food that crisscross a neighborhood.” In IDEO Taps Octopi and Flamingos to Reorganize the USGBC, “the designers instantly realized it [the mycorrhizal fungal mat] was a perfect model: What if, instead of a hierarchical relationship, the [US Green Building Council] national body (like the fungi) was in a supportive relationship with chapters (the trees), moving information and resources around as necessary?”
To learn more about mycorrhizal fungi, visit YouTube’s Open University course, Investigating fungi: the wood-wide web: Track 1, and watch the six videos in this series.