Decentralised Community-based Networks and the teachings of a Wood Wide Web

Jan 14, 2019 · 5 min read

It is not surprising that plants move with purpose. They are aware of what is going on around them. To respond correctly to the responsive environment, plants need sophisticated sensing devices that are finely tuned to the surroundings varying conditions. These conditions can vary in unpredictable ways, for example changing the acidity of the soil and making minerals more valuable and more difficult to extract.
This has been well documented. Many Time-Lapse | Short Films are available on YouTube and BBC documentaries. It is evident that the plants move with a purpose and grow towards the sunny places etc. In fact, the whole value of James Cameron’s movie Avatar resides in the exploitation of this concept.

But what happens underneath the soil?

It is really a race. A race where competitors not only fight for the best spots but also collaborate to survive. This collaboration takes the form of a real stock exchange of goods where not only valuable products are purchased with liquid currency but also services are contracted at the cost of a fee.

A groundbreaking study published back in 1997 [1] showed that plants feed mostly by utilizing symbiont fungal organisms known as mycelium fungi. These are possibly the largest organisms known to science, and they are responsible for exploring the soil, find hidden reserves of nutrients and exchange them to the roots of plants and trees through a complex system of interconnected filaments.

In modern words, they provide an exchange network as a service. At first glance, this might sound like a capitalistic system i.e. a marketplace of plantae that has been going on for millions of years. A 2006 study estimates that fungi and plants have been interacting for over 400 million years, and since then, fungi have formed relations with around 80% of all the plant species [2].

So, is this really the free market of the kingdom of plantae? Did biologists just track down the neoliberalism model back to its roots? (no pun intended)

The Mycelia allows ‘stock exchanges’ between trees by means of a sophisticated filament network that extends itself underneath the soil.

Actually, scientists today are starting to understand how complex this relation can become. Let me begin with a short story.

Let me begin with a short story.

It happens in a North American forest, during summer, trees send nutrients and sugars to overshadowed pine trees. This might seem unexplainable, why and how this type of tree bothers to help another one that lives meters away?

The reason is, during in winter the pine tree pays back to the due to its ability to photosynthesise during this period of the year. Basically, they have signed a type of ‘smart contract’ that operates over the mycelium network.

As someone might expect, the network provider will charge ‘sugars’ fees for the service, which will allow the mycelium network to grow in size and create new connections with other neighbours in a self-sustainable manner.

The more scientists dig into this network, they call the Wood Wide Web, the more surprising it gets. This WWW is not only a platform for currency and goods exchange but also a decentralised social network [3].

Yes, trees talk to each other.

For example, when a tree is being attacked by a swarm of bugs, electrochemical messages are posted in the mycelia social network so neighbouring trees can release insect-repelling chemicals to raise their defense levels [4].

Analogously, the mycelium network also provides a high-quality healthcare system. This allows the exchange of anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterial and/or antivirals with the affected tree.

The mycelium network connects individuals forming a community. In this way, jungles and forest can be re-interpreted as single massive super-organisms.

No matter how fantastic this might sound, it is certain that the underlying network creates a thriving community between individuals: older trees help seedlings grow faster and stronger, dying trees will donate their accumulated nutrients to the community, affine species will benefit from the specific exchange of information, sugars, antivirals, etc, forming real federations.

In such a federative environment, there are “mother trees” that serve as network connection hubs. These federation operators are in charge of taking care of younger trees, accelerate the distribution and propagation of warning signals, mediate fluxes of enzymes to decompose plant and animal debris, recycle garbage, oil spills, wastewater, etc.

A “mother tree” can be seen as a network connection hub, a federation operator that help seedlings grow faster and stronger while distributing more efficiently nutrients and information to other members of the community.

Community and federation analogies can go on and on, but at this point, something is certain: life preservation is not only a matter of competition but collaboration. And for over 400 million years plants have achieved it with the help of mycelia: a community based decentralised exchange network.

Nature always surprises us with its creativity.

When the Internet broke out to the world back in the 90s, no one questioned that this technology was the exclusive result of human cleverness and capabilities. Who would have thought that we were millions of years behind in terms of connectivity and goods exchange technologies?

It is clear that we can learn many things from the results of millions of years of evolution if we look underneath our feet. Understanding and replicating some of the functionalities of mycelia networks gives us a good starting point on how a community based self-sustainable exchange network should operate.

Maybe it is time to change the paradigm of how our decentralised networks should behave. We have to acknowledge that collaborative individuals interacting with their ecosystem become members of an integral community that should be looked after. In this sense, services should be distributed in such a way that the exchange of goods and information can allow the number of connections to grow while preserving the sustainability and health of the network itself.

Perhaps the starting point is to completely discard the obsolete idea of survival of the fittest and see evolution as a global collaborative endeavour. After all, our planet has been alive for long enough. It can be seen as a large interconnected super-organism, and humans imitating some of its underlying functions at different scales, are nothing more than this super-organism fractally replicating itself.

To know more about how community and federative decentralised networks work, see the following publication:

How and Why Build a Federative Ecosystem Using Datachain Infrastructure.

References and further reading on the Wood Wide Web:

[1] Smith SE, Read DJ. Mycorrhizal symbiosis. London, UK: Academic Press; 1997. For a more modern review see:

[2] At the Root of the Wood Wide Web. Giovannetti, M., Avio, L., Fortuna, P., Pellegrino, E., Sbrana, C., & Strani, P. (2006). At the root of the wood wide web: self recognition and non-self incompatibility in mycorrhizal networks. Plant signaling & behavior, 1(1), 1–5.

[3] Wohlleben, P. (2016). The hidden life of trees: What they feel, how they communicate — Discoveries from a secret world. Greystone Books.

[4] Z. Babikova, et al. Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack, Ecology Letters 2012.


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