I read on The New Yorker - The Secrets of the Wood Wide Web that trees communicate with each other through electrical impulses sent through their roots. Through these impulses they can ask other trees for some nutrient if they are getting it in insufficient amount or warn the other trees about an upcoming pest attack. This phenomenon is termed as the Wood Wide Web.

So how do trees distinguish in different types of impulses that they receive if they don't even have a brain? And does this process show any resemblance to nervous system in animals?

Additional YouTube video: Trees can talk to each other, but how?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to SE Biology. It is a good idea to do the guided tour before you make your first post as it will familiarise you with how the site works. (You also get a badge, which is how I know you haven't). As a non-botanist I would still be very sceptical about the proposition in your question, so I would wish to see the evidence for it. You should therefore include a link to where "online" you read about it. Otherwise it may be closed as "unclear". $\endgroup$ – David May 17 '17 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @David I have included 2 links one of a YouTube video on the topic and another link which I saw. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Jasmeet singh May 17 '17 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ Nowhere in your clickbaity source article is the word electrical found. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin May 17 '17 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think a brain is required to interpret communications? Single-celled organisms communicate with each other using chemical signals. And organs within larger organisms communicate using hormones and nerve impulses, but the organs don't have brains of their own. $\endgroup$ – Barmar May 17 '17 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Jasmeetsingh Membrane depolarization, which is what those pages call electrical impulse, does in fact happen in (some) plants. However, in this link on your comment above, the phenomenon is not related to your first link (mycorrhizal networks), that's another process. What Mindwin said, and what I also say in my answer, is that in the article linked in your question there is no mention to electrical impulse. $\endgroup$ – user24284 May 18 '17 at 1:01

I have to say: when you claim that "trees communicate with each other through electrical impulses sent through their roots", you're thinking about Avatar.

Joking apart, what you call wood wide web is the mycorrhizal network.

Mycorrhizal fungi are well known to botanists and ecologists. They are the fungal partner in the mycorrhiza, which is a symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant.

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Mycorrhizal hyphae (white) in a root

The novelty about this mycorrhizal network is that, as it was demonstrated, plants can use it to exchange some chemical substances. And, in certain cases, this exchange can be used to improve disease resistance.

However, there is no electrical impulse in this process.

According to Song et al. (2010):

In theory, plants can also communicate with each other through underground common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs) that interconnect roots of multiple plants. However, until now research focused on plant-to-plant carbon nutrient movement and there is no evidence that defense signals can be exchanged through such mycorrhizal hyphal networks. Here, we show that CMNs mediate plant-plant communication between healthy plants and pathogen-infected tomato plants (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). After establishment of CMNs with the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Glomus mosseae between tomato plants, inoculation of ‘donor’ plants with the pathogen Alternaria solani led to increases in disease resistance.

This other research demonstrate that the mycorrhizal network can be used to warn neighbouring plants of aphid attacks (Babikova et al., 2013):

Here, we show that mycorrhizal mycelia can also act as a conduit for signalling between plants, acting as an early warning system for herbivore attack. Insect herbivory causes systemic changes in the production of plant volatiles, particularly methyl salicylate, making bean plants, Vicia faba, repellent to aphids but attractive to aphid enemies such as parasitoids. We demonstrate that these effects can also occur in aphid-free plants but only when they are connected to aphid-infested plants via a common mycorrhizal mycelial network. This underground messaging system allows neighbouring plants to invoke herbivore defences before attack.

In both cases the mycorrhizal networks play an important role in exchanging chemical substances among the plants.

The network has a dark side too: it can be used to deliver allelochemicals from one plant to another, greatly increasing allelopathy. According to Barto et al. (2011):

Common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs) form belowground networks that interconnect multiple plant species; yet these networks are typically ignored in studies of allelopathy. We tested the hypothesis that CMNs facilitate transport of allelochemicals from supplier to target plants, thereby affecting allelopathic interactions.

Finally: don't rely on media to get scientific information, specially in these times of alternative facts. Sometimes you can get good information in the media, but good and accurate information is way harder to find (an example is this BBC page about the mycorrhizal network). However, in defense of that page in The New Yorker, there is no mention to electrical impulses.


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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the editing, I totally missed the italics after the copy/paste... I'll still edit this several times, finding my grammar mistakes. $\endgroup$ – user24284 May 17 '17 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ +1 For the content. Also, the media always seems to over-hype scientific results. They are trying to sell something, after all. One of my favourites: Chicken grows face of dinosaur. $\endgroup$ – canadianer May 17 '17 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ I'm surprised that a reputed magazine like The New Yorker can deliver over-hype scientific results $\endgroup$ – Ooker May 18 '17 at 9:25

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