Wednesday 18 May 2022 04:10 PM Australia's rainforest trees are dying faster than ever, study finds  trends now

Wednesday 18 May 2022 04:10 PM Australia's rainforest trees are dying faster than ever, study finds  trends now
Wednesday 18 May 2022 04:10 PM Australia's rainforest trees are dying faster than ever, study finds  trends now

Wednesday 18 May 2022 04:10 PM Australia's rainforest trees are dying faster than ever, study finds  trends now

Trees in the Australian rainforest are dying twice as fast as they were in the 1980s due to climate change, a new study says.

An international group of researchers studied almost 50 years of data on tree numbers in the moist tropical regions of North Queensland

They found death rates of tropical trees have doubled since 1984, likely due to global warming, and that trees are also living around half as long. 

The researchers think the atmosphere of North Queensland and other parts of the world has more 'drying power' now compared to in the 1980s. 

As the atmosphere warms, it draws more moisture from plants, resulting in loss of water in trees and ultimately higher risk of death. 

Researchers have studied almost 50 years of data on tree numbers in the moist tropical regions of North Queensland (pictured). They found death rates of tropical trees have doubled since 1984, due to global warming, and that trees also live around half as long

Researchers have studied almost 50 years of data on tree numbers in the moist tropical regions of North Queensland (pictured). They found death rates of tropical trees have doubled since 1984, due to global warming, and that trees also live around half as long

WHAT'S CAUSING TREE DEATH? 

Researchers think Earth's atmosphere has more 'drying power' now compared to in the 1980s. 

As the atmosphere warms, it draws more moisture from plants, resulting in increased water stress in trees and ultimately increased risk of death. 

Greater temperatures likely increased the 'atmospheric evaporative demand' - defined as the loss of water from Earth's surface due to factors like temperature and humidity. 

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Because trees suck up carbon, an increase in tree mortality will increase carbon in the atmosphere, which in turn could cause the planet to heat up even more. 

The new study was conducted by researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Oxford University, and French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD).

'It was a shock to detect such a marked increase in tree mortality, let alone a trend consistent across the diversity of species and sites we studied,' said Dr David Bauman from the IRD, who led the study.

'A sustained doubling of mortality risk would imply the carbon stored in trees returns twice as fast to the atmosphere.’  

The team analysed patterns of tree death between 1971 and 2019, using a dataset that represented 74,135 trees from 81 different species and 24 forest plots in North Queensland. 

They found that annual tree death risk has, on average, doubled across all plots and species over the period. 

An increase in tree mortality still stood after the team accounted for natural occurrences such as cyclones and other forms of wind damage. 

The increase seems to have started in the 1980s, indicating the Earth’s natural systems may have been responding to changing climate for decades. 

Unsurprisingly, trees in drier local climates were found to have a higher average mortality risk. 

Trees living around half as long is a pattern consistent across species and sites across the region, they also found.  

Researchers studied data on trees in 24 forest plots in North Queensland. This graph shows annual percentage of tree death per plot. Black triangles indicate wind damage from cyclones

Researchers studied data on trees in 24 forest plots in North

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