The Tallest Tree in the Tropical World


The Tallest Tree in the Tropical World

Image credits: Robin Martin/Carnegie Institution for Science
Image credits: Robin Martin/Carnegie Institution for Science

By far, the tallest trees in the world are Californian Redwoods, or more commonly known as Sequoias. Before commercial logging and clearing began by the 1850’s, these massive trees occurred naturally in an estimated 2,100,000 acres (8,500 km2) along much of coastal California (excluding southern California where rainfall is not sufficient) and the southwestern corner of coastal Oregon within the United States.

An estimated 70% or more of ancient old-growth redwood trees have been displaced by environmental changes or cut down. The tallest Redwood is Hyperion, measuring a total of 115.61 m (379.3 ft), making it the tallest living tree in the world that we know of.

However, biologists have now located the tallest tree in the tropics, measuring in at 94.1 m (309 ft), and is located in Borneo. And it doesn’t stand alone either, being surrounded by another 49 other giants like itself.

“I’ve been doing this for a solid 20 years now, and I have to say, this was one of the most moving experiences in my career,” ecologist Gregory Asner from the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University told Mike Gaworecki at Mongabay.

“This tallest tropical tree, and the 49 runners-up, are truly phenomenal expressions of the power of nature.”

The tree was identified via an aircraft called Carnegie Airborne Observatory, and making use of a technology known as LIDAR. This stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and is a basically a pulsating laser used to measure distances and ranges.

“This technique relies on the 500,000 laser shots per second that we fire out of the bottom of the plane as we fly, which provides a very detailed 3D view of the forest canopy down to the ground level,” Asner told Mongabay. “We then digitally process and comb the 3D data for the tallest trees (in this case).”

Just to be on the safe side, Asner returned to the area with this tree after he processed the data he gathered. However, nobody has set foot near it, but the team is planning on doing so in the near future.

“The crazy thing is that our tallest tree is immediately flanked to each side by a tree of the same species of Shorea, almost as tall!” said Asner. “So, there are three trees, like brothers, standing above the rest of the canopy. I almost cried as we circled the tree maybe 10 times before the pilot said we had to go back.”

These results came just months after researchers at Cambridge annouced their discovery of the tallest tropical tree, satnding in at 89.5 metres (293.6 feet), in the same area but in a different valley. The purpose of this research was not to fin the tallest tree by any means, but to better understand these populations and to figure out how to better protect them from various threats; especially logging.

If anything, these huge trees can serve as an inspiration for people, motivating them to preserve these true wonders of nature.

“Conservation needs inspiration, and these sentinels of the Bornean jungle provide that to us,” Asner concluded. “This discovery is a gift to science, to the people of Sabah and Borneo, and to the world.”