Researchers Peek into the Mysterious World of Roots

Friday, June 13, 2014

Scientists in the western United States are digging into the hidden world of tree roots in an effort to illuminate some unexplained mysteries.

"This is something really weird. This is something like a mystery for forest ecologists," scientist Dr. Nalini Nadkarni. 

Root networks are often called neighborhoods: what looks like a whole forest is really just one single, sprawling organism.

Tree roots can share nutrients with far-away neighbors by transporting them across thin threads of fungi. These threads, called fungal hyphae, spread through the soil like giant underground spider webs. They penetrate the roots of neighboring trees, creating pathways that exchange hormones and other material. Very little is known about the role of fungal hyphae in Northwest forests, which is one reason Dr. Nadkarni calls soil one of the "last biotic frontiers".

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