The economics of fungi

One part of the mycelium had access to a big patch of phosphorus.  Another part had access to a small patch.  She was interested in how this would affect the fungus’s trading decisions in different parts of the same network.  Some recognizable patterns emerged.  In parts of a mycelial network where phosphorus was scarce, the plant paid a higher “price,” supplying more carbon to the fungus for every unit of phosphorus it received.  Where phosphorus was more readily available, the fungus received a less favorable “exchange rate.”  The “price” of phosphorus seemed to be governed by the familiar dynamics of supply and demand.

Most surprising was the way that the fungus coordinated its trading behavior across the network.  Kiers identified a strategy of “buy low, sell high.”  The fungus actively transported phosphorus — using its dynamic microtubule “motors” — from areas of abundance, where it fetched a low price when exchanged with a plant root, to areas of scarcity, where it was in higher demand and fetched a higher price.  By doing so, the fungus was able to transfer a greater proportion of its phosphorus to the plant at the more favorable exchange rate, thus receiving larger quantities of carbon in return.

We still do not understand how those behaviors are controlled.  And that is all from the new and excellent Merlin Sheldrake book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures.

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Is something humans are very talented at. Yet metaphors change nothing, and when combined with anthropomorphization, often lead to wildly false conclusions.

Not that any true alpha male ever need worry about the marketplace for hot women, nor the metaphors they are using.

You don't get it. It's as if the fungus, pursuing only its own interests, is led by an invisible hand to serve the interests of the larger community.

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We do know how these processes unfold, the coffee cup slosh effect.

There will be interactions, occasionally where locals abundances of phosphorus clash. At that moment, there is a new phosphorus momentum transfer, and it splits the concentrations such that the slope at that point, is the most irrational. Chaos is split. This causes concentrations to split into groups which best balance the concentration differences to undecipherable error, equilibrium. Like bats constantly chattering to each other until they are most partitioned and most quiet. (cooled down). I think we figured this one out.

AFAIK we don’t understand how microtubule (de)polymerization Is controlled. It’s an amazing process. And that’s just one of the crazy behaviors.

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Wood-wide web, dude.

If you coined that one, Bill, congratulations.

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I recall reading about something like this*...and crows have been known to buy high, sell low, as related in a book on the history of economic thought.

*When planning for a metro to be made it the most efficient layout for moving people, I recall reading that fungi were used, said fungi grew in the most energy efficient, space saving way possible, in a network, which was then used to plan for an underground railroad to move people.

You may be thinking of slime molds, single-celled organisms that can solve the traveling salesman problem. Researchers put out food in a pattern representing population centers in the Tokyo region, and the slime mold successfully recreated the Tokyo train network.

There was a slight difference - a few little extra 'tracks' were laid down by the slime mold but not used by the engineers who built the actual system. Analysis showed that just a couple of these extra branches reduced network damage risk dramatically. It seems we optimize for efficiency, but the slime molds optimize for efficiency balanced against risk.

The slime mold seems to be smarter than us in some ways.

Less likely to respond to fashionable ideas and ideologies.

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Mutualistic relationships like the mycorrhizal fungi/plant relationship can exhibit economic strategies such as price differences and supply and demand.
One example from a mutualistic relationship is “ cleaner fish provide a higher-quality cleaning service in the presence of other competing cleaner fish”
There is a theory called “ biological market theory that purports to model these relationships.
Legumes are able to form a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia a nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria It involves negotiations and sanctions that allow the plant to differentially reward more-cooperative rhizobia. At least this paper claims it so:

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/659997
Many other examples like the ant/aphid mutualism. This review of Biological trade gives some examples of trade between species:

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2015.0101

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Some how I always imagined fungi as being more .... socialist.

However Mr Merlin is interpreting this as a trade. Is it? Perhaps there is just a movement of nutrients from high concentrations to low concentrations? We do much the same with sodium in our bodies but we do not trade. It just happens that sodium will move until it evens out. More or less.

So a little bit socialist - to each according to his need

A fungus is not a plant so I interpreted this as a description of trade with an external entity.

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Economics is just a reflection of nature. Does nature have the same impediments to efficiency? Certainly human intervention (carbon emissions) is an impediment, but I doubt that nature has political interventions. For example, shifting production to a low-wage country like China has greatly enhanced overall productivity and output, but political actors have intervened in an effort to restore the status quo ante. The equilibrium attributable to political intervention is at a lower level of both efficiency and output. Since nature doesn't engage in politics, the equilibrium in nature is likely the optimum outcome. We have a lot to learn from fungi. Is this taught in econ 101 or 102 at GMU?

"For example, shifting production to a low-wage country like China has greatly enhanced overall productivity and output, but political actors have intervened in an effort to restore the status quo ante."

That's what's missing from most of these economics-inside-a-mushroom stories: the mushroom is less like a market than a single firm trying to optimize. It's not all that more interesting or complex than the Robinson Crusoe stories that econ teachers use in intro econ courses.

Most of the interesting interactions and "decisions" in nature are not those a single organism trying to feed itself, instead they're about multiple organisms trying to feed themselves and COMPETING with each other, analogous to firms competing with each other or perhaps even more interesting countries trading with, but also competing with, each other.

And nature becomes even more interesting when we have not just organisms competing to exploit a food source, but also predating on each other, i.e. competition to attack vs defend or escape. The economic analogies are less good there.

But looking for economics inside a single mycellium? The socialism vs capitalism analogies and stories that we can draw from that are limited and impoverished; economies don't exist in such a nice single-organism environment. (If that organism has significant competition occurring inside itself, e.g. maybe some cancerous cells feuding with the other cells, or the competing minds model of human minds, then we'd be getting closer to having the necessary complexity.)

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Low pressure is a high value good for fluids. Whenever part of a liquid has access to a low pressure environment, it allows immigration of other fluid molecules residing in the high pressure area, until, in the end, all molecules have lowered this inequality of pressure to a tolerable level. We abuse this socialistic tendencies of fluid molecules to make them do our bidding in all kinds of industrial applications.

We should spend more time trying to talk to those enlightened molecules, trying to figure out how they communicate and cooperate, instead of enslave them in our internal combustion engines, suspensions, and even making them have to deal with the recoil of artillery pieces. They have so much to teach us about economics.

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Though it plays out more like arbitrage, the urge to make a fungibility joke is irresistible.

Haha true.

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More evidence that evolution and economics are merely two branches of the same science.

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