Trees, Bears, Mushrooms and Bees

Forests are large, interconnected systems teeming with life and activity both big and small. Ecologists diligently study the countless interactions that take place within forests, and more is discovered every day. There is so much that scientists have not yet discovered about forests, whether it is because of the scale of the interactions, the length of time they occur or it is something they would not think to look for. Each of these interactions is vital to keeping forests vibrant and healthy, and every participant is crucial to the process, no matter the size. It is important to understand the activities that keep our forests healthy so that we can aid and bolster them.

A process of note that was recently discovered in forests in the Pacific Northwest by mycologist Paul Stamets involves the collaboration of bears, bees, mushrooms and trees. In this series of connections, bears leave scratches on trees either to communicate or to sharpen their claws, and also to access the tree’s resin (or sap). These scratches remove bark from trees and allow polypore mushrooms to grow in the scratches. As the mushroom grows, bees dig away at the tree to feed on the mushroom’s spreading mycelium. Bees dig away at trees further to feed on the mushroom’s mycelium. This mycelium extract bolsters bees’ immune systems and helps protect them from disease and human-made toxins. The fewer bees die, the more bees there are to pollinate forests.

This interconnectivity is not one that many people would expect, but each actor, from the small but plentiful bees to the comparatively gargantuan yet more isolated bears, plays a pivotal role in keeping the forest healthy. If any connection is removed, the whole process breaks down. If bears don’t remove the bark from trees, mushrooms cannot grow, which means bees can’t feed on the mycelium and are more likely to contract disease or toxins.

It is important that we all play a part in keeping forests—and the connections within them—healthy. American Forests is dedicated to preserving and restoring forests all across North America. You can help our mission by supporting to our cause. Every gift allows us to restore damaged wildland and urban forests for people, for wildlife and for the planet.