Climate Change and Deforestation Killing World’s Oldest Trees and Stunting Younger Ones

A study published in the journal Science reveals that a combination of climate change and deforestation is destroying ancient trees, and stunting younger ones. Add forest wildfires to the equation, most natural forest ecosystems in the world are getting lost forever.

Although various factors are responsible for the loss of trees and forests all over the world, the global results are the same – stripping the Earth of her forests and laying it bare to the vagaries of the elements to the hurt of wildlife that live in them. With the loss of forests and the death of old trees and stunting of younger ones comes the disappearance of critically endangered species such as the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger that enrich its biodiversity.

Nate McDowell, the lead author of the study and staff at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, identified climate change, forest wildfires, deforestation, and insect outbreaks as the major causes of tree loss around the world. According to him, there seems to be no end in sight to the logging of ancient trees and the shortening of younger ones.

“Perhaps more concerning is that the trajectory of all these disturbances are generally increasing over time and are expected to continue increasing into the future,” he said.

Together with 20 other forestry specialists, McDowell and his team sifted through more than 160 previous studies on tree mortality and applied current satellite data and modeling to determine worldwide loss of tree habitats to date.

Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, an ecologist and leader of the ForestGEO Ecosystems and Climate Program at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, noted that virgin forests in Siberia, Australia, and the Amazon have witnessed massive fires in recent years, and illegal logging of trees continues unabated in Brazil and Southeast Asia.

McDowell noted that human activities are hitting the global forests so hard and so rapidly in many different places that the forests cannot keep up with it. Given that forests contain carbon-dioxide and increase its presence in the atmosphere, the loss of natural trees and the shortening of many others will do the Earth a lot more harm than good.

“I would recommend that people try to visit places with big trees now, while they can, with their kids,” McDowell says. “Because there’s some significant threat, that might not be possible sometime in the future. A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to.”