The underground social network between trees

When I picked up Peter Wohlleben's book The Hidden Life of Trees, I expected to read about interactions between fungi and plant life. And indeed, the fascinating relationships between these diverse life forms were discussed at great depths. Together, tree roots and fungi form the mycorrhiza which some have referred to as the Wood Wide Web. Fungi are fundamental to the underground social networks that trees use to communicate to one another, to warm others of danger, and to transport nutrients and water.

This symbiotic Wood Wide Web provides nutrients to the tree and the fungi. Trees that cooperate with fungi take in about twice as much nitrogen and phosphorus than plants that tap the soil alone. Fungi also filter out heavy metals and guard the tree against destructive bacteria or fungi. For their help, the fungi get something in return. Nearly a third of the tree's total food production is shuttled to the fungi. (more…)


The buzz about the honey bee microbiome

Imagine you are at a picnic on a nice sunny day. Several bees stop by buzzing around your food particularly intrigued by a bowl of fruit. Though bees may be a nuisance on this particular day, they serve an essential role in the production of much of the food we eat. They produce honey, beeswax and other products we enjoy. Bees are also crucial in pollination and without honey bees, we may not be able to enjoy fruits, nuts, and vegetables that we do today.

In the past decades, the honey bee population have declined rapidly. Between April 2015 and March 2016, beekeepers lost 44.1% of their colonies. This decline in the honey bee population could be due to many reasons including pesticides, parasites, and disease. More curiously, many colonies have fallen to colony collapse disorder (CCD), where adult worker bees die-off and surprisingly, no dead bees are found in or around the hives. The exact cause of CCD is not completely known thought many have attributed pesticides, pathogens, antibiotics, and climate change as the cause. (more…)


Microbe of the month: Nanopusillus acidilobi, an archaeon found in Yellowstone National Park

"Life has evolved to thrive in environments that are extreme only by our limited human standards: in the boiling battery acid of Yellowstone hot springs, in the cracks of permanent ice sheets, in the cooling waters of nuclear reactors, miles beneath the Earth's crust, in pure salt crystals, and inside the rocks of the dry valleys of Antarctica." -Jill Tarter, astronomer

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is well known for its geothermal features and diverse ecosystems. With features such as hot spring, geysers, canyons and forests, it's no wonder that the biodiversity (microbial and not) at YNP is enormous. (more…)