Trees, Truffles, and Beasts: How Forests Function

Trees, Truffles, and Beasts: How Forests Function

Trees, Truffles, and Beasts: How Forests Function

Trees, Truffles, and Beasts: How Forests Function

Synopsis

In today's world of specialization, people are attempting to protect the Earth's fragile state by swapping limousines for hybrids and pesticide-laced foods for organic produce. At other times, environmental awareness is translated into public relations gimmicks or trendy commodities. Moreover, simplistic policies, like single-species protection or planting ten trees for every tree cut down, are touted as bureaucratic or industrial panaceas.

Because today's decisions are tomorrow's consequences, every small effort makes a difference, but a broader understanding of our environmental problems is necessary to the development of sustainable ecosystem policies. In Trees, Truffles, and Beasts, Chris Maser, Andrew W. Claridge, and James M. Trappe make a compelling case that we must first understand the complexity and interdependency of species and habitats from the microscopic level to the gigantic. Comparing forests in the Pacific Northwestern United States and Southeastern mainland of Australia, the authors show how easily observable species - trees and mammals - are part of a complicated infrastructure that includes fungi, lichens, and organisms invisible to the naked eye, such as microbes.

Eminently readable, this important book shows that forests are far more complicated than most of us might think, which means simplistic policies will not save them. Understanding the biophysical intricacies of our life-support systems just might.

Excerpt

We depend on forests, yet we know less about them than we should. Forests are thought by many to be economic engines, providing wood for construction and fuel and wood chips for paper. Even as tourists we view forests as a vista of trees, cloaking mountains and valleys. In this book three wise men tell us there is much more that we should be seeing when we look at forests. Concentrating on their personal experiences in the Pacific Northwest of North America and southeastern Australia, they take us on an ecological and historical tour to open our eyes to the complexity of the ecological webs that support forests.

Ecologists have been like most people in ignoring the soil. It has been left to agricultural scientists and some foresters to begin to investigate soil ecology. The stimulus to these investigations has been largely practical—why are these crops not growing? And how can we increase tree growth for more wood production? The role that fungi play in plant growth was not understood in the 1800s when agricultural scientists began to investigate limiting factors in soils. Fungi were viewed as decomposers and disease agents, not as essential players in the growth of living plants. An astute botanist, Albert Bernhard Frank, professor of plant pathology at the Royal College of Agriculture in Berlin, suggested in 1885 that the mycorrhizae formed by certain fungi with tree roots were in fact beneficial to the plants. Many scientists rejected his idea for decades that the association of fungi with roots was a mutualistic symbiosis, or a win-win interaction, because it was against the conventional wisdom that fungi caused disease and decay. Clearly some fungi might be nice to eat but that was as far as it went.

During the last fifty years ecologists have begun to appreciate the significance of fungal mutualisms to tree growth and survival. Coupled with this growing interest has been the application of aboveground ecological ideas to soil biology. Predator-prey dynamics, competition, dispersal, and community dynamics are all the subject of soil biology today.

We were even late to discover the importance of fungal foods to animals. Many examples in this book will capture your imagination because they seem so highly improbable. How do California red-backed voles in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest survive on a diet that is almost . . .

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