New research shows that the largest 1% of trees actually make up about 50% of the aboveground biomass in forest ecosystems. Carried out by James A. Lutz and an immense team of nearly 100 other scientists from around the world, their work reveals the importance of large trees. By compiling data from 48 different plots, they not only describe new significance in the largest 1% of trees but describe latitudinal patterns as well. This type of research is something to welcome because more collaboration often offers even more insight. Collaborative science is the new norm, especially when dealing with larger global scales.
Within these 48 forest sites, over 5.6 million trees were sampled representing 9,298 different species. It would be completely unviable to carry out all this sampling by one’s self, both from a cost and time standpoint. In today’s world, people are connecting their ideas and working together to answer big questions. This new scientific paper ensures us that the future of forest ecology is entering a new age of cohesiveness and data sharing.
Besides finding out that the largest 1% of trees represent 50% of the aboveground biomass, these researchers analyzed these size and density trends as a function of latitude. They found that in ecosystems near the equator, tree stem density was significantly higher compared to ecosystems further from the equator. This global pattern is already a widely accepted ecological trend and can be explained by the increased amount of light and rain present near the equator.
Similarly, the 1% of the largest tree biomass respective to their ecosystems was also significantly higher in the areas around the equator. Near the equator, there’s so much competition, but once an individual break through the dense canopy, it receives as much light as it can photosynthetically handle. In more temperate ecosystems, there is a more even playing field, because the canopy isn’t nearly as dense. The quantity of light is not that much different once an individual breaks canopy in temperate ecosystems.
Density, and growth of the largest tree individuals goes hand-in-hand. Because of the conditions near the equator, a ridiculous number of plants grow. These dense rainforests filter much of light that would otherwise reach the forest floor. Once the largest individuals break canopy in these systems, they become much more massive than the other 99% of smaller trees that are likely without full sunlight.
This research shows the importance of big trees. Forestry services should realize the implications of removing the largest trees. Many believe that selective harvesting is a more sustainable practice than clear-cutting. Though this may still remain true, selective harvesting isn’t much better, especially if the largest trees are removed. By removing the largest 1% of trees, we remove 50% of the aboveground biomass from these ecosystems. This message was brought to light by a sizeable group of scientists who coordinated their efforts and shared their data willingly.