December 10th, 2012 by James Ayre
The biggest and oldest trees in the world have been dying at fast and fast rates in recent years, new research has found. These trees form the foundation of many ecosystems and many different plants and animals depend on them for their survival.
ScienceHeathen has more:
A new report, just released by three of the world’s leading ecologists, is warning that the “alarming” and rapid increase in the death rates of trees 100-300 years old will have very negative effects on the health of ecosystems around the world. The deaths aren’t confined to any particular areas either, they are spread out amongst the forests, savannahs, woodlands, farming regions, and cities of the world.
“It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest,” says lead author Professor David Lindenmayer of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and Australian National University.
“Large old trees are critical in many natural and human-dominated environments. Studies of ecosystems around the world suggest populations of these trees are declining rapidly,” he and colleagues Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University, Australia, and Professor Jerry Franklin of Washington University, USA, say in their Science report.
“Research is urgently needed to identify the causes of rapid losses of large old trees and strategies for improved management. Without… policy changes, large old trees will diminish or disappear in many ecosystems, leading to losses of their associated biota and ecosystem functions.”
You can read more about that here.
This loss of the worlds oldest and largest trees is of course not unprecedented, the majority of the temperate world was covered in thick vegetation only 10,000 or so years ago. The causes now are the same as they have always been, though the rate has been significantly increasing in recent years. Agriculture, environmental changes caused by farming, man-made changes in fire regimes, logging, the loss of apex predators, timber gathering, insect population explosions, and rapid climatic changes, have all played a significant role in the loss of forests and specifically the biggest and oldest trees.
“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 imperilled,” they warn. Following in the footsteps of the many now extinct species of megafauna that covered the globe only 10,000-15,000 years ago.
Image Credits: Jomon via Wikimedia Commons; Bill Laurence
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