Magazine article American Forests

Ancient Trees Lead to Healthy Forests

Magazine article American Forests

Ancient Trees Lead to Healthy Forests

Article excerpt

Ancient trees are some of the most incredible organisms on the planet. These are living things that have seen centuries, some of them even millennia, of life on earth. As trees and forests around the world fall victim to the many causes of deforestation, a new discovery has shown that protecting ancient trees is more important than we ever realized.

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A study by researchers in the McGill University Department of Biology has found that the contributions older trees make to their forests actually make the ecosystem healthier. How? The secret is in two organisms that grow on ancient trees in particular: certain types of mosses and the cyanobacteria that live upon them. Cyanobacteria perform a vital function called nitrogen fixing; they remove nitrogen from the air and turn it into a form that the plants can use. Nitrogen is so vital to the health and growth of plants that the size and strength of many forests depend upon the level of nitrogen available.

The relationship between cyanobacteria and forests was already known; where this study stands out is in the types of forests and trees being observed. Instead of collecting moss samples in boreal forests from the ground only, as similar studies have done, the researchers collected samples from coastal forests, both on the floor and up in the tree canopy, where they found that the same cyanobacteria are far more abundant, and supply the trees with twice as much nitrogen. …

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