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The Hidden Life of Trees
What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World
- Read in 16 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 10 key ideas
Trees are engaged in countless complex cycles and they constantly struggle for water, light and their own survival. This struggle has led to some astonishing abilities: trees communicate with one another, give each other assistance, collaborate with fungi and other creatures, have memories and have even developed their own version of the internet!
Key idea 1 of 10
Our planet’s lungs: Trees play a vital role in global water and carbon dioxide cycles.
Before diving into the fascinating abilities of trees, let’s take a brief look at their general importance.
Humanity owes them a great deal: they clean the air we breathe and help ensure the availability of water, even in the world’s most remote locations. In fact, without trees humans would be unable to survive.
If there were no trees, large swathes of the earth would dry out. As you probably remember from school, the way the global water cycle works is that water evaporates from the oceans, condenses into clouds that blow onto dry land, where it then rains down and trickles into streams and rivers that flow back into the ocean.
However, this straightforward explanation omits one crucial fact: without trees, every cloud would rain down within 600 kilometers of the coast, leaving the inner parts of continents bone dry. Trees essentially act as gigantic water pumps, transporting water further inland. When it rains in a forest near the coast, much of the rain remains on the leaves of trees and the forest floor. This water then evaporates, forming new clouds that make their way further inland, where they rain down.
In addition to hydrating the inner reaches of continents, trees also clean the air of carbon dioxide, thereby protecting the climate. They gather CO2 from the air and store it, and when they die, some of this gas is re-released into the atmosphere, but much of it remains in the tree.
By burning these dead trees, whether in the form of coal or gas, we’re releasing this CO2 back into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. What’s more, we’re producing so much CO2 that the trees can’t keep up – they are unable to store it.
As you can see, without trees the earth and its climate would be much less hospitable to humanity.