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Peter Wohlleben is a forestry engineer and forest and tree expert and this is how he presents himself for this interview ...
I am 61 years old. Woman and two children. I live in the Eifel region (Germany). I run an environmentally friendly forestry operation. I work to return the necessary primeval forests to nature.
Are trees social beings?
Trees are connected through roots, and can distinguish the roots of other species and even different specimens of the same species. A forest is a superorganism, like an anthill.
Together they work better?
Yes, because together they create a balanced local climate. Each tree is important for the community and the forest acts accordingly: the sick specimens are provided with the necessary nutrients for the rest to heal.
I believed they were competing.
They can compete fiercely with other species, but also befriend and watch that no branch that is too thick grows towards the other. The trees equal their weaknesses and their strengths. Through the roots an active exchange takes place. He who has a lot gives in and he who has little receives help.
In those thick forests, how can the little trees grow?
Through the roots their mothers come into contact with them and provide them with sugar and other nutrients. Arguably, baby trees are suckled.
The adults form that thick roof over the forest and only let through three percent of the light so that the little ones do not grow too fast, this is what forestry experts have called education for generations.
Slow growth is a condition for later reaching advanced age. Science no longer discusses the ability of trees to learn, it remains to be resolved where they store what they have learned and how they rescue it.
Many botanists argue that at the tips of the roots they have brain-like structures. In fact we know that trees have memory, they are able to record and distinguish rising temperatures in spring from those falling during fall.
They just need to talk ...
In their own way they do too. Through odoriferous substances they communicate. When a danger is approaching, the acacia alerts its congeners by emitting ethylene, a warning gas.
And what do they do with the information?
They release toxic substances to prepare. They also send warnings through electrical signals through the roots and networks of fungi, which are like our nervous system.
Vegetables do it too?
Unfortunately our crop plants have lost the ability to communicate. They are mute and deaf, and therefore very vulnerable to insects.
Do trees suffer when they are thirsty?
They scream. According to research by the Swiss Confederate Forest Research Center that recorded ultrasound tones, trees emit certain vibrations when water is scarce.
And city trees, do they communicate?
As in forest plantations, due to pruning and planting the roots are damaged forever and can no longer form a network. They behave like street children. Basically they lack the forest, the community, the education: no one to punish them if they grow too fast or crooked by depriving them of light.
Not a fan of pruning?
If a large part of the branches are removed, photosynthesis is reduced and consequently a large part of the roots starve, fungi penetrate these dead zones.
We thought it sanitized the trees ...
We have been considering and treating nature as if it were a machine, but in a handful of forest land there are more living beings than human beings on Earth.
You worked for twenty years in the service of the Forestry Commission of your country.
Yes, my job consisted in managing forests as if they were wood, over the years I began to look differently. Today I am convinced that there is a forest community in which each living being has its role.
He has collaborated with biologists from RWTH University in Aachen.
Everything I tell you is not crazy, it is based on scientific research also conducted by the University of Aachen, British Columbia and the Max Planck Society. And all this research indicates that our forest management is very wrong.
Studies claim that old trees are much more productive than young ones, and important allies on the issue of climate change, so revitalizing forests is a mistake.
Forests must be allowed to age.
Yes, we need more wild forests, letting the trees grow with the space in between they choose. And there is no need to fear weeds, in the reserves where 100 years ago humans have not intervened, the dense shade and the litter prevents the growth of herbs and bushes.
They say that the forest air is health.
In addition to filtering the air, trees release substances, but they are not the same in an old forest reserve as in an artificial plantation. With the litter they are transported to the sea through acidic rivers that stimulate the growth of plankton, the first and most important link in the food chain.
By Ima Sanchís