Interspecies communication

Writing Science B (an essay published in Zeteo‘s Fall 2013 issue), was a thought experiment: imagining a possible though not actual science. In publication’s aftermath, however, I keep hearing news of scientists hard at work on projects that speak to one or another of the essay’s concerns. For example, in the final New Yorker of 2013, Michael Pollan writes about scientists who are investigating intelligence in plants. In what Pollan calls “a striking example of interspecies communication,” Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia has “found that fir trees were using the fungal web to trade nutrients with paper-bark birch trees over the course of the season. The evergreen species will tide over the deciduous one when it has sugars to spare, and then call in the debt later in the season.” (For more, see “The Intelligent Plant.”)

Meanwhile, a 2010 article by Eva Hayward in Cultural Anthropology (Fingereyes: Impressions of Cup Corals) has led me to two books that, inter alia, focus on how human nature has been shaped by our interactions with other species (as we have shaped them in turn). About these two books—Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) and Paul Shepard’s The Others: How Animals Made Us Human—I look forward to writing more in the near future.

PS: The heart-warming way into the study, or appreciation, of cross-species relationships is the 2012 PBS documentary Nature: Animal Odd Couples.

— Wm. Eaton, Zeteo Executive Editor

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