This dead-looking tree stump is being kept alive by other trees

Tree roots.
(Image credit: iStock.)

If a tree falls in a forest, is it really dead?

A peculiar tree stump in New Zealand is testing this question. Scientists found a tree stump of the species Agathis australis, known as the kauri tree, that is still growing new tissue despite having no leaves. They discovered that it was actually being helped by other trees — under the forest floor, an interconnected root system allowed nutrients from the other kauri trees to pass to the stump, letting it grow even when it had no leaves.

Their research, published in the journal iScience on Thursday, reveals that this natural oddity is causing scientists to rethink what it means to be a tree. Interconnected roots provide a system of interaction between trees and tree stumps for some species, which makes them "much more complex than previously assumed," said the study's authors, Sebastian Leuzinger and Martin Bader.

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It's not clear what benefit living trees would have by looping a leafless stump into their network of resources — but that stump is able to use its community to get access to "water, carbon, mineral nutrients, and microorganisms," Gizmodo explained.

Given this ability for some trees to help each other out in such a direct way, maybe it's time to stop thinking of trees as individual organisms. Perhaps they're all just parts of one "superorganism" that comprises the whole forest, Leuzinger said. While we're far from having proof that such a scientific reclassification is necessary, it's safe to say that trees are a lot more complicated than we thought. Read more at Gizmodo.

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