olive tree olive tree We had no idea trees were this neighborly. (Photo: Stephan Vorster/Shutterstock)

Scientists just accidentally discovered that trees share food with each other

'The Giving Tree' is way more accurate than we ever realized.

We animals aren't the only life forms that practice the golden rule. According to a new study, trees don't just gamble and compete with each other for resources. They also share.

Tamir Klein, a scientist from Israel's Weizmann Institute, and researchers from Switzerland knew that carbon dioxide would probably rise in the future. They wanted to see how this would affect trees, so they sprayed wild trees with extra carbon dioxide. They marked the carbon dioxide so they could see where it went inside the trees.

Scientists from Israel and Switzerland study trees.These scientists from the Weizmann Institute's Tree Lab know that, for trees, sharing is caring. (Photo: Weizmann Institute)

But when they saw where the carbon was going, they made a discovery that they weren't expecting: the carbon didn't just stay in the trees they sprayed. It spread to other trees. It even spread to other species of trees.

Carbon dioxide is a useful nutrient for plants, one that they use for growth and food (and one that we're trying to learn to use for fuel). So the trees were basically neighbors inviting each other over for dinner every day.

The scientists now think that almost half of carbon in trees could be shared through fungi in roots.

“Neighboring trees interact with one another in complex ways,” Klein said. “Of course, there is a great deal of competition among them, but they also form communities, sort of ‘guilds,’ within which individual trees share valuable resources. In fact, trees belonging to a ‘guild’ usually do much better than those that don’t.”

"Ain't no such thing as a free lunch" apparently doesn't apply to trees.

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