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Tree growth increases continuously with tree size – and why this matters

Released: 2015
Stephenson, NL. 2015. Tree growth increases continuously with tree size – and why this matters. Western Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculturalists, 81st Annual Conference:  The Nature and Science of Arboriculture, April 27-May 1, 2015.  Fish Camp, California. [presentation]

Trees have commonly been thought to have a lifetime growth pattern similar to humans:  rapid growth early in life followed by declining growth later in life.  Yet a handful of studies have instead found continuously increasing growth rates in trees, thus leaving us with two mutually exclusive generalizations about the fundamental nature of tree growth.  We sought to distinguish between the possibilities by assembling an international team of researchers to analyze growth measurements of 673,046 trees belonging to 403 tree species, representing tropical, subtropical and temperate regions across six continents.  For most species, mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size; a single big tree can add the mass equivalent of an entire medium-sized tree to the forest each year.  These results help us understand the role of trees in the global carbon cycle, and add to the growing body of evidence that although trees may age (suffer cumulative exogenous injuries through time), they do not senesce (suffer an inevitable, endogenous physiological decline).  I also explore the origins of the longstanding belief that tree growth rates must eventually decline with increasing tree size.

This product is associated with the following project:
Climate and Fire in the Sierra Nevada

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