Suzanne Simard

Nobel Conference 54

You can watch Suzanne Simard's lecture online.

Suzanne Simard is Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. Growing up in the forests of British Colombia, Suzanne Simard became intrigued by the inner mechanisms of the forest ecosystem, and inspired by their beauty. After working as a research scientist at the British Columbia Ministry of Forests for ten years, before choosing to return to university research.

Simard has been investigating mycorrhizal networks--associations between fungi and plants that form in the soil--for more than twenty-five years. While we might be inclined to think of plants as isolated individuals, responsible for acquiring their own sunlight, water, and nutrients, research into mycorrhizae has revealed that the vast majority of all plant life on earth--as much as 80 percent--forms complex and multifaceted mycorrhizal networks. Using isotope tracers, she has been able to determine which plants are networked, as well as the quantities of resources exchanged among them. Simard’s findings have been instrumental in transforming the way we view plant intelligence and ecosystem connectivity. Her findings have been published in preeminent professional journals such as New Phytologist.

Though Suzanne Simard has had great success in publishing her work in prominent scientific journals, she has also placed a high priority on communicating often arcane scientific knowledge to the general public. She has given a TED talk and appeared in the documentary film Intelligent Trees to discuss how mycorrhizal networks, tree physiology and forest ecosystems are integrated in ways not previously understood. She is intrigued by how networks have characteristic behaviors based on efficient and positive interactions, and how this positive behavior leads to positive outcomes in the system or for individuals.

Simard is active in training the next generation of scientists to be good communicators of their research. With colleagues at UBC, she launched TerreWEB, an innovative graduate training program that integrates global change science, social science and communications research.

Professor Simard’s Nobel Conference Presentation

The daughter of a logging family in British Columbia, Suzanne Simard was inspired to study trees. Her scientific research deepened her appreciation of her own forest heritage and offers us profound insights into how trees communicate with each other. Simard recounted her discovery of trees’ methods of communicating with each other, and discussed the implications of this discovery for science and for humanity.