Suzanne Simard

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Suzanne W. Simard
Suzanne Simard.jpg
Simard in 2018
Alma materOregon State University
Scientific career
FieldsForest ecology, mycorrhizal networks
InstitutionsUniversity of British Columbia
ThesisInterspecific Carbon Transfer in Ectomycorrhizal Tree Species Mixtures (1995)
Doctoral advisorDavid A. Perry

Suzanne Simard is a Canadian scientist who is a professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia.[1] She received her PhD in Forest Sciences at Oregon State University.[1] Prior to teaching at the University of British Columbia, Simard worked as a research scientist at the British Columbia Ministry of Forests.[1]

Simard is best known for the research she conducted on the underground networks of forests characterized by fungi and roots.[1] She studies how these fungi and roots facilitate communication and interaction between trees and plants of an ecosystem.[1] Within the communication between trees and plants is the exchange of carbon, water, nutrients and defense signals between trees.[1] Simard is also a leader of TerreWEB, an initiative set to train graduate students and Post-Doctoral Fellows in global change science and its communication.[2][1]

She used rare carbon isotopes as tracers in both field and greenhouse experiments to measure the flow and sharing of carbon between individual trees and species, and discovered, for instance, that birch and Douglas fir share carbon. Birch trees receive extra carbon from Douglas firs when the birch trees lose their leaves, and birch trees supply carbon to Douglas fir trees that are in the shade.

Mother trees[edit]

Simard identified something called a hub tree, or “mother tree”. Mother trees are the largest trees in forests that act as central hubs for vast below-ground mycorrhizal networks. A mother tree supports seedlings by infecting them with fungi and supplying them the nutrients they need to grow.[3]

She discovered that Douglas Firs provide carbon to baby firs. She found that there was more carbon sent to baby firs that came from that specific mother tree, than random baby firs not related to that specific fir tree. It was also found the mother trees change their root structure to make room for baby trees.[4]

Interspecies cooperation[edit]

Simard found that "fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season".[5] For example, tree species can loan one another sugars as deficits occur within seasonal changes. This is a particularly beneficial exchange between deciduous and coniferous trees as their energy deficits occur during different periods. The benefit "of this cooperative underground economy appears to be better over-all health, more total photosynthesis, and greater resilience in the face of disturbance".[5][6]

Science communication[edit]

Suzanne Simard is an advocate of science communication. At the University of British Columbia she initiated with colleagues Dr. Julia Dordel and Dr. Maja Krzic the Communication of Science Program TerreWEB,[7] which has been training graduate students to become better communicators of their research since 2011. Simard has appeared on various non-science platforms and media, such as the short documentary Do trees communicate,[8] three TED talks [9][10][11] and the documentary film Intelligent Trees,[12] where she appears alongside forester and author Peter Wohlleben. New Scientist magazine interviewed Simard in 2021.[13] Suzanne Simard has published a book where she reviews her discoveries about the life of trees and forests along with autobiographical notes.[14]

Popular culture[edit]

Simard’s life and work served as the primary inspiration for Patricia Westerford, a central character in Richard Powers’ 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory, in which Westerford pioneers the controversial idea that trees can communicate with each other, and is ridiculed by fellow scientists before eventually being vindicated.[15][16]

Simard's work was referenced in Season 2, Episode 11 of the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso when Coach Beard says: "You know, we used to believe that trees competed with each other for light. Suzanne Simard’s field work challenged that perception, and we now realize that the forest is a socialist community. Trees work in harmony to share the sunlight."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Biography of Suzanne Simard for Appearances, Speaking Engagements". Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  2. ^ "TerreWEB - UBC Wiki". Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  3. ^ "Prof. Suzanne Simard talks about "Mother Trees"". May 16, 2011.
  4. ^ Simard, Suzanne W.; Perry, David A.; Jones, Melanie D.; Myrold, David D.; Durall, Daniel M.; Molina, Randy (August 1997). "Net transfer of carbon between ectomycorrhizal tree species in the field". Nature. 388 (6642): 579–582.
  5. ^ a b Pollan, Michael. "The Intelligent Plant".
  6. ^ Simard, S.W. (2012). "Mycorrhizal networks: Mechanisms, ecology and modeling". Fungal Biology Reviews. 26: 39–60.
  7. ^ "TerreWEB".
  8. ^ "Do Trees Communicate?" – via
  9. ^ "How trees talk to each other".
  10. ^ "The networked beauty of forests - Suzanne Simard". TED-Ed.
  11. ^ "Nature's internet: how trees talk to each other in a healthy forest – TEDxSeattle".
  12. ^ "Intelligent Trees - The Documentary".
  13. ^ Hooper, Rowan (May 1, 2021). "The wisdom of the woods". New Scientist (3332): 39–43. ISSN 0262-4079. Online title: Suzanne Simard interview: How I uncovered the hidden language of trees.
  14. ^ Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 2021.
  15. ^ Jabr, Ferris (December 2, 2020). "The Social Life of Forests". The New York Times. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  16. ^ Fabiani, Louise (2018). "It's Not the Trees That Need Saving: The Overstory (Review)". Earth Island Journal. Retrieved February 1, 2021.

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