Centuries-old giant trees in tropical forests may be trapped in a dangerous feedback loop and are at risk of dying from climate change -induced events, according to a new report. 

What is Happening?

Adriane Esquivel-Muelbert, lecturer at the University of Birmingham, says, “Big trees are hard to measure. They are the pain in a field campaign because we always have to go back with a ladder to climb up to find a place to measure the circumference above the buttresses. It takes a long time. Studies focusing on the reasons trees die don’t have enough information for the biggest trees and often end up excluding them from their analysis.”

Evan Gora, STRI Tupper postdoctoral fellow, commented: “Because we generally lack the data necessary to tell us what kills trees that are above 50 centimeters in diameter, that leaves out half of the forest biomass in most forests.”

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Dr Gora says, “We know the deaths of largest and oldest trees are more consequential than the death of smaller trees. Big trees may be at particular risk because the factors that kill them appear to be increasing more rapidly than the factors that seem to be important for smaller tree mortality.”

  1. Almost nothing is known about disease, insects and other biological causes of death in big trees;
  2. Because big trees are often left out of analyses, the relationship between cause of death and size is not clear; and
  3. Almost all of the detailed studies of big tropical trees are from a few locations like Manaus in Brazil and Barro Colorado Island in Panama.