World’s giant trees are dying off rapidly, studies show

The biggest trees in the world, known as the true ecological kings of the jungle, are dying off rapidly as roads, farms and settlements fragment forests and they come under prolonged attack from severe droughts and new pests and diseases.

Long-term studies in Amazonia, Africa and central America show that while these botanical behemoths may have adapted successfully to centuries of storms, pests and short-term climatic extremes, they are counterintuitively more vulnerable than other trees to today’s threats.

“Fragmentation of the forests is now disproportionately affecting the big trees,” said William Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. “Not only do many more trees die near forest edges, but a higher proportion of the trees dying were the big trees.”

“Their tall stature and relatively thick, inflexible trunks, may make them especially prone to uprooting and breakage near forest edges where wind turbulence is increased,” said Laurance in this week’s New Scientist magazine.

Big trees may comprise less than 2% of the trees in any forest but they can contain 25% of the total biomass and are vital for the health of whole forests because they seed large areas. “With their tall canopies basking in the sun, big trees capture vast amounts of energy. This allows them to produce massive crops of fruits, flowers and foliage that sustain much of animal life in the forests. Their canopies help moderate the local forest environment while their understory creates a unique habitat for other plants and animals,” said Laurance.

“Only a small number of tree species have the genetic capacity to grow really big. To grow into giants trees needs good growing conditions, lots of time and the right place to establish their seedlings. Disrupt any one of these and you lose them.”

Keep on reading this article in the Guardian.

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