Climate Change Trees & Forests

Old Trees & Climate Change

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Protecting very old trees can help mitigate climate change: Ancient trees—those that are many hundreds, or even thousands, of years old—play a vital role in biodiversity and ecosystem preservation by providing stability, strength, and protection to at-risk environments. In a review article publishing in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, a team of ecologists highlight the importance of preserving these monumental organisms and present a project initiative to ensure their protection and longevity. “Ancient trees are unique habitats for the conservation of threatened species because they can resist and buffer climate warming,” write the authors, including Gianluca Piovesan and Charles H. Cannon. Some of these trees, such as bristlecone pines in the White Mountains, U.S., can live up to 5,000 years and act as massive carbon storage. Ancient trees are hotspots for mycorrhizal connectivity, the symbiotic relationship with underground fungi that supplies plants with many of the nutrients they need to survive. This symbiosis with fungi also helps reduce drought in dry environments. Ancient trees play a disproportionately large role in conservation planning and yet are being lost globally at an alarming rate. The researchers propose a two-pronged approach to protect ancient trees: first, the conservation of these trees through the propagation and preservation of the germplasm and meristematic tissue from these ancient trees, and second, a planned integration of complete protection and forest rewilding.

Garden Reading Trees & Forests


What the World Will Lose if Ancient Trees Die Out: Old trees are in big trouble. Whole forests with fire-resistant giant sequoias up to 3,000 years in age have recently gone up in flames. Whole stands of drought-resistant Great Basin bristlecone pine, a species that can reach 5,000 years in age, have been sucked dry by bark beetles. Monumental baobabs, the longest-living flowering plants, buckle under the stress of drought in southern Africa. The iconic cedars of Mount Lebanon, ancient symbols of longevity, struggle in warmer, drier conditions. Millennial kauris in New Zealand and centenarian olive trees in Italy succumb to invasive diseases. Cumulatively, this is more than a cyclical turnover. This is a great diminution: fewer megaflora (massive trees), fewer elderflora (ancient trees), fewer old-growth forests, fewer ancient species, fewer species overall. Although Earth’s “tree cover” — three trillion plants covering roughly 30% of all land — has expanded of late, It’s young stuff. Old-growth communities are scarce and getting scarcer. Ancient trees are gift givers. They inspire long-term thinking and encourage us to be sapient. They engage our deepest faculties: to revere, analyze and meditate. If we can recognize how they call upon our ethical imperative to care for them, then we should slow down climate change now, and pay forward to people who will need a future planet with chronodiversity as well as biodiversity. The author of this thoughtful article is Jared Farmer, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Elderflora: A Modern History of Ancient Trees.”