Capacity of Old Trees to Respond to Environmental Change

Authors

  • Nathan G. Phillips,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Plant and Food Science, University of Western Sydney, Richmond NSW 2753, Australia
    2. Department of Geography and Environment, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA
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  • Thomas N. Buckley,

    1. Department of Biology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California 94928, USA
    2. School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia
    3. Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne VIC 3002, Australia
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  • David T. Tissue

    1. Centre for Plant and Food Science, University of Western Sydney, Richmond NSW 2753, Australia
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  • Supported by Discovery Project Number DP0879531 of the Australian Research Council; a University of Western Sydney International Research Schemes Initiative (IRIS) (71827); the National Science Foundation, Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (0517521); sabbatical support from Boston University to NGP; and from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

*Author for correspondence.
Tel: +617 353 2841;
Fax: +617 353 8399;
E-mail: <nathan@bu.edu>.

Abstract

Atmospheric carbon dioxide [CO2] has increased dramatically within the current life spans of long-lived trees and old forests. Consider that a 500-year-old tree in the early twenty-first century has spent 70% of its life growing under pre-industrial levels of [CO2], which were 30% lower than current levels. Here we address the question of whether old trees have already responded to the rapid rise in [CO2] occurring over the past 150 years. In spite of limited data, aging trees have been shown to possess a substantial capacity for increased net growth after a period of post-maturity growth decline. Observations of renewed growth and physiological function in old trees have, in some instances, coincided with Industrial Age increases in key environmental resources, including [CO2], suggesting the potential for continued growth in old trees as a function of continued global climate change.

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