Detangling the Debate on the ‘Wood Wide Web’

By Michelle Gamage
The Tyee
May 18, 2023
Category: Forestry
Region: Canada

When should we encourage stories that make us fall in love with the forest and when should we stick to tested, proven science? This is the debate unfolding between scientists as they explore what’s happening beneath the surface of the forest. …Somewhat unsurprisingly scientists today are duelling over exactly what we can say for certain about the “wood wide web.” On one side there are those who cheer on the concept and how it encourages us to engage with forests. On the other, a collection of more cautious scientists worry the idea has grown beyond what’s been shown by research. On the first side is BC scientist Suzanne Simard and the numerous papers she’s published which analyze and explain how plants and mushrooms communicate and share resources. German forester and author Peter Wohlleben is also in this camp.

On the other side are scientists who say the science behind the idea of the “wood wide web” needs more research — a lot more — and that the idea of an interconnected forest communicating and sharing resources might not exist in the way that the public seems to think it does. A group of Canadian researchers and Swedish researchers… find the research supporting the existence of a “wood wide web” is “lacking”. …Justine Karst said the idea is “problematic” because of its disconnect with the research that has so-far been done on the topic. …Tom Kimmerer, a consulting forest ecologist with 40-odd years in the industry… praises Simard as a “good scientist” with “credible” research. But he notes… “I don’t think it’s good for us to pretend the natural world works like we do. It’s more complicated than we know and more beautiful.”…One thing all sides agree on: more research is needed.

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