Primal Resonance

Scientists Listen to Trees to Save Forests

New discoveries could help reduce forest fires and prevent bug infestations, based on two scientific studies about how trees function.

In one, researchers are listening to the ultrasonic complaints of drought-stricken, beetle-infested piñon pines. They hypothesize that the beetles find vulnerable trees by detecting these sounds. The beetles also emit ultrasounds to communicate among themselves, which may attract more bugs to a tree under attack. Dr. James Crutchfield, from the University of California at Davis, who is collaborating with the Art and Science Laboratory in Santa Fe, says that if the theory proves true, it may be possible to use ultrasound to confuse and divert the beetles and protect the trees.

The other study has solved the mystery of how trees produce low-level electrical power. This opens the way to using trees’ own electricity to power networks of sensors for early fire detection, even in remote regions. Shuguang Zhang, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced the finding in PLoS ONE, a Public Library of Science online journal. His research team notes that trees generate electricity from an imbalance in the acidity between a tree and the soil; it’s the same principle students use to generate a charge using a lemon or potato at high school science fairs.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

In Vitro Corals

Frustrated by vanishing reefs, scientists are fertilizing coral sperm and eggs in labs and returning them to the wild.

Algae Alchemy

Two Dutch designers are processing live algae into material that can be used for 3-D printing of such items as shampoo bottles and trash bins.

Lower Overhead

Cincinnati has purchased 100 percent renewable energy to operate most of its municipal buildings through at least 2021, cutting its utility rates by more than $100,000 annually.

Independent Action

More than 50 mayors from around the globe have signed the Chicago Climate Charter, intended to guide cities toward reaching greenhouse gas emissions reductions similar to those targeted in the Paris climate accord.

Deadly Cargo

The Iranian tanker Sanchi oil spill in the East China Sea has scientists worried about unknown impacts caused by the toxic nature of the ultra-light, highly flammable oil.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags