The Biggest Trees On Earth Are Dying

By Nick Venable | 8 years ago

You know what? I’ve probably never been in contact with a really big tree. Living in Louisiana all my life has many non-benefits, and a lack of giant plants is one of them. And the small amounts of travel I’ve done, which isn’t something that interests me that much, have never taken me anywhere close to that kind of nature. So I am jealous of everyone who has access to them, and I hope they don’t go unappreciated. Even more so now that ecologists have depressed me.

Big trees are dying, people. A lot of them, and quickly. A study in the journal Science reports on increasing tree deaths among those 100-300 years old, with seemingly no limit to affected locations. Lead author David Lindenmayer, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and a professor at Australian National University, said, “It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest.” His fellow colleagues are Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University, Australia, and Professor Jerry Franklin of Washington University, USA. After looking at Swedish forestry records from the 1860s and a 30-year study of Australia’s Mountain Ash forest, the team confirmed the problem’s existence, finding similar trends in Yosemite National Park, African savannahs, Brazilian rainforests, as well as the various forests in Europe. Farmlands and cityscapes haven’t been shielded from these effects either.

It’s not as if there’s a single cause to lock into the crosshairs and blast at. Wildfires are playing a major role, but even during non-fire years, there has been severe damage due to drought, the logging industry, land clearing, insect attack, and that old cooze, climate change. A week of fifth-grade science would teach you just how important the loss of these wooden mammoths is, but it’s something adults completely take for granted. Here’s Bill Laurance re-educating those who may have forgotten.

It is a very, very disturbing trend. We are talking about the loss of the biggest living organisms on the planet, of the largest flowering plants on the planet, of organisms that play a key role in regulating and enriching our world.

Large old trees play critical ecological roles. They provide nesting or sheltering cavities for up to 30% of all birds and animals in some ecosystems. They store huge amounts of carbon. They recycle soil nutrients, create rich patches for other life to thrive in, and influence the flow of water within landscapes and the local climate.

Big trees supply abundant food for numerous animals in the form of fruits, flowers, foliage and nectar. Their hollows offer nests and shelter for birds and animals like Australia’s endangered Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) — and their loss could mean extinction for such creatures.

In agricultural landscapes, large old trees can be focal points for vegetation restoration; they help connect the landscape by acting as stepping stones for many animals that disperse seeds and pollen.

The loss is compared to the loss of large animals the world over. “Just as large-bodied animals such as elephants, tigers and cetaceans have declined drastically in many parts of the world, a growing body of evidence suggests that large old trees could be equally imperiled.”

Sadly, this is a problem without a known answer yet, as conservation methods are relatively new and are not prepared to handle centuries-old problems. The researchers ask for a call to arms in figuring out a long-term solution to the dramatic problem. I doubt anyone would go for my idea of writing “Save the Trees!” on signs made out of whale.

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