As they pass through a forest on the North Island of New Zealand, Martin Bader and Sebastian Leuzinger happen upon something strange. A type of tree known as a kauri pine stands before them, apparently dead. Yet as the scientists look closer, they notice something weird. This tree contains sap – which means something is unexpectedly keeping it alive.
Bader and Leuzinger are both ecologists, so the pair are undoubtedly qualified to take a closer look at things. And after analyzing the seemingly dead tree and its healthier neighbors, they note some similarities between them. These parallels, it seems, suggest that the other trees are keeping this stricken plant alive.
The ailing tree’s own roots had apparently joined up with those of the other trees. Such behavior is not unheard of when numerous trees are in a position to equally split available resources between them in order to shore up the collective’s strength. However, this had never been noted before when one of the trees in the group was dying.
Scientists haven’t yet confirmed why the healthier trees would help out their ill neighbor in this way. One suggestion, however, is that the roots were joined back when the dying tree was in better shape, and the bond never subsequently broke. Another theory is that the healthier trees benefit by extending their own root systems through the dying tree, allowing them to gather up more nutrients.
In any case, further study will be necessary. But the find may potentially change the way scientists comprehend trees down the line, as Sebastian Leuzinger has suggested. “This has far-reaching consequences for our perception of trees,” he said, as reported by website Science Alert. “Possibly we are not really dealing with trees as individuals, but with the forest as a superorganism.”