Researchers say ecosystems worldwide are in danger of losing forever their largest and oldest trees unless there are policy changes to better protect them.
Research by universities in Australia and the United States, published in Science, said ecosystems worldwide were in danger of losing forever their largest and oldest trees unless there were
policy changes to better protect them.
“It’s a worldwide problem and appears to be happening in most types of forest,” said David Lindenmayer yesterday from the Australian National University, the lead author of a study into the problem.
“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.”
Lindenmayer, along with colleagues from the James Cook University in Australia and Washington University in America, undertook their study after examining Swedish forestry records going back to the 1860s.
They found alarming losses of big trees, ranging from 100 to 300 years old, at all latitudes in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, South America, Latin America and Australia. The trees at risk included mountain ash in Australia, pine trees in America, California redwoods and baobabs in Tanzania.
The study showed that trees were not only dying en masse in forest fires, but were also perishing at 10 times the normal rate in non-fire years. The study said it appeared to be down to a combination of rapid climate change causing rought and high temperatures, as well as rampant logging and agricultural land clearing.
“It is a very, very disturbing trend,” said Bill Laurance of James Cook University. “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, providing nesting or sheltering cavities for up to 30 per cent of all birds and animals in some ecosystems. They also store huge amounts of carbon, recycle soil nutrients, create rich patches for other life to thrive in, and influence the flow of water within landscapes.