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Editor's Note: Symbiosis

​Trees are competitive. Long-standing scientific theory tells us that trees race towards the forest canopy to access the light. Thus, weaker trees suffer, eventually withering and dying in the shade.

Suzanne Simard begs to differ. She says that this theory of forest life is far too simplistic. Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, found that trees cooperate rather than compete. 

In experiments ranging over decades, Simard found that trees fare best when they live in diverse groups. For example, Simard found that a birch tree and a fir tree could live harmoniously near one another in the forest. However, when the birch was removed, “the Douglas fir became diseased and died,” Simard told the hosts of the RadioLab on their podcast titled “Tree to Shining Tree.” Simard continued, “There was some kind of benefit from the birch to the fir; there was a healthier community when they were mixed, and I wanted to find out why.”

It turns out that a complex underground web of fungi connects the trees allowing the transfer of food, nutrients, and beneficial bacteria. The fungus draws the water and minerals that the tree needs from the ground. And the tree reciprocates by giving the fungus the sugar it needs to survive.

Not all trees tap into this network. But those that do, have the advantage. “You find twice the amount of life-giving nitrogen and phosphorous in plants that cooperate with fungal partners than in plants that tap the soil with their roots alone,” writes Peter Wohlleben in his book The Hidden Life of Trees.

The fungi serve as a communications network: A tree damaged by a beetle infestation can send a warning to other trees, so those trees can emit a chemical to repel the invaders. 

Through this underground infrastructure, trees can also help one another. “Paper birch send carbon to Douglas fir seedlings, especially when they are shaded in summer, probably enhancing their survival.” writes Jennifer Frazer in her blog “The Artful Amoeba” on the Scientific American website. “In spring and fall, the Douglas fir return the favor when the birch have no leaves.”

This symbiosis may be startling when discovered in a forest, but it should be commonplace within companies. Within ASIS International there must be cooperation among magazine staff, headquarters personnel, and members. These groups are most successful when advancing a common goal. 

In this spirit, this issue of Security Management includes several changes. “Homeland Security” is now called “National Security” to reflect the concerns of nations around the world. Updated graphics will better connect the written word with the visual to present compelling and vibrant storytelling. And, a new standalone “ASIS News” department now serves as one more conduit for information sharing among headquarters staff and members from around the world.