Strange 'Superorganism' is Keeping a 'Vampire' Tree Alive

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Strange 'Superorganism' is Keeping a 'Vampire' Tree Alive


The stump of a kauri tree in New Zealand, a tree that can grow up to 165 feet tall, was believed to have died. However, scientists have discovered that a network of intertwined roots that share resources called “superorganism” is keeping it alive. 

Although the researchers are not sure why the nearly dead tree has been kept alive by the surrounding kauri trees, they concluded that its roots serve as a kind of bridge that allows the other trees to access more resources such as water and nutrients, as well as increase the stability of the trees on the steep forest slope. According to an article by Live Science, the kauri stump grafts its roots onto its neighbors' roots. It feeds itself with nutrients and water that other trees have collected during the day. 


Photo Credit: Sebastian Leuzinger / iScience (via Live Science)


Sebastian Leuzinger, an associate professor at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand said, "For the stump, the advantages are obvious — it would be dead without the grafts because it doesn't have any green tissue of its own. But why would the green trees keep their grandpa tree alive on the forest floor while it doesn't seem to provide anything for its host trees?"

The researchers used several sensors to study the nutrient flow through the vampire stump and the two closest trees in the environment. They measured the movement water and sup and discovered that all of the trees seemed to be drinking up water at exact opposite times. The trees are also serving as separate pumps in a single hydraulic network.


Photo Credit: Sebastian Leuzinger / iScience (via Live Science)


This discovery led the researchers to question the concept of what a forest is. "Possibly we are not really dealing with trees as individuals, but with the forest as a superorganism," Leuzinger said. According to their findings, these forest superorganisms play a critical role in the forests. They can add protection from droughts and give trees with less access to water a chance to share resources with their better-hydrated neighbors.




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