Fascinating facts: the intelligence of nature

From ‘tuned in’ spiders to signal-sending plants, we zoom in on some of nature’s advanced intelligence networks


Underground allies: fungal networks

We may think humans invented the information superhighway, but fungi got there first. Fine threads called mycelium act as an underground ‘internet’, linking the roots of different plants.

  • There are an estimated 1.5m species of fungi
  • Up to 90 per cent of land plants are in a mutually-beneficial relationship with fungi
  • By linking into the network, plants share nutrients and information with neighbours and can sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals
  • Mycologist Paul Stamets lists six ways mycelium fungus could “help save the universe”:
    1. Cleaning up oil spills
    2. Absorbing farm pollution
    3. Creating natural insecticides
    4. Creating more fertile soil
    5. Treating smallpox and flu
    6. Creating a sustainable fuel source
  • Large trees help smaller trees survive using the fungal ‘internet’



Bird brains

For centuries, scientists dismissed birds as being less intelligent than mammals. Now they’re finding a new place in the pecking order.

  • Tests have shown rooks and crows to be better than eight-year-old children at reaching treats by making and using wire hooks
  • Birds can remember where they hid thousands of pieces of food even after landscapes are covered in a metre of snow
  • Birds can find their way home after migrating thousands of miles. Arctic terns travel an average of 44,000 miles per year



Plant problem solvers

It’s a jungle out there, even in your back garden. All plants and trees need to find energy, reproduce and stave off predators. How do they cope?

  • Humans have five basic senses. But scientists believe plants have at least 20
  • Plants release pheromones to warn of insect attacks and other plants respond
  • Plants also send distress signals, attracting predators of the insects that threaten to eat them
  • Plants are sensitive. Every root apex can detect 20 physical and chemical parameters, from light and gravity to humidity and pathogens
  • There are at least 600 species of animal-eating plants, including the venus flytrap
  • Plants can survive even after losing 90 per cent or more of their biomass



Smart animal acts

Are you a human supremacist? Environmental philosopher Derrick Jensen explores our near-universal belief in the superiority of humans in this article

All artwork: Give Up Art

This feature is from issue 88 of Positive News magazine

Be informed, be inspired. Become a Positive News subscriber member to receive our magazine delivered to your door, plus access to exclusive member benefits.