A few months ago, it was announced that there was a new record for the world’s tallest tropical tree: a Yellow Meranti (Shorea faguetiana) found in Sabah, one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, that stands some 89.5 metres (about 294 feet) tall.
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From a freezing hotel ballroom in Kota Kinabalu, an exciting announcement was made about the sweltering tropical forests in the Heart of Borneo, in an area on the interior of Southeast Asia that straddles the borders of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Using laser-scanning technology known as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Greg Asner of Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed that his team had identified 50 new trees that break the previous record for the world’s tallest tropical tree announced earlier this year.
Amazon forests conjure visions of lush canopies, not giant branches crashing to the ground. But according to a recent study, published in Environmental Research Letters, dead branches frequently fall from the tops of trees in the Amazon, releasing a startling amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Across the state of California, millions of trees are dying each year—but it’s not from old age. The ongoing drought is causing extreme water stress in many forests, which paradoxically leads trees to release pheromones that attract another threat: bark beetles. According to forest ecologist Christina Restaino, water stress also cuts the trees’ ability to produce sap, a first-line defense against beetles.
Even before the plane left the runway, it was clear the crew of researchers examining the fallout from California’s historic drought would not return with good news.
Patient zero was probably in Puna, a lush, wild district not far from Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island. In 2010, the U.S. Forest Service and University of Hawaii started getting calls from distraught landowners in the area about ohia trees on their properties. Ohias, the bright, flowered trees that dominate nearly 50 percent of the island-state’s forests, are known for their ability to thrive nearly anywhere across the archipelago. But a swath of them had withered mysteriously and died in a matter of weeks.
While much of the country is dealing with rain and snow, California is still dry. One hundred percent of the state is in some form of drought, and a new study just released by the Carnegie Institution for Science has now put a number on what the drought has done to California’s iconic forests. A high-tech flying laboratory has been soaring over California, measuring the impact of four years of drought.
“There’s a lot of red on this screen, which is a sign that we’re over an area that’s in trouble,” scientist Greg Asner told CBS News.
New maps reveal the extreme impact the years-long drought has had on California’s trees and offer a prognosis for future forest health.
Up to 58 million trees have been severely stressed by the drought and related factors, such as rising temperatures and a plague of bark beetle infestations. If the drought persists, hundreds of millions of trees throughout the state could die, according to a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The past four years of punishing drought have badly hurt California’s forests. Rain was scarce, the days were too hot, and this year’s wildfire season was the worst anyone has seen in years, burning up nearly 10 million acres across the West. For the first time, a team of researchers has measured the severity of the blow the drought dealt the trees, uncovering potential future destruction in the process. The resulting paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a rich visual testament to just how much California needs its trees and how close the state is to losing 58 million of them.