Jan 15, 2014 03:58 PM EST
The Older The Tree, The Faster It Grows: Trees Grow Exponential-Tree
For many years, humans have viewed trees through a human perspective, which is why most scientists believed (but had never proven) that trees slow down, in terms of growth, as they age. Recent research published in the journal "Nature" proved the opposite: trees grow faster as their size increases, Bloomberg reported.
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"I think one of the reasons [the idea that older trees grew more slowly] had such staying power is because it's what humans do," Nate Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Study and lead study author told Live Science. "We start growing slowly, then reach adolescence and have a growth spurt, then slow down again."
Stephenson's research was spurred by a 2010 study, which found that redwood trees continued to grow throughout their thousand-year or more life span, according to Live Science. By his results, 97 percent of the trees assessed, both tropical and temperate, grew faster as their size became greater.
The old way of thinking was also influenced by a previous study, which showed that young trees inhabiting a plot of land of a certain size absorbed more atmospheric carbon than older trees occupying the same amount of space. Since carbon consumption is a main indicator of growth, it was assumed that young trees were growing at a quicker rate.
But the study was misleading. Though both types of trees occupied the same number of acres, the young trees were more numerous, simply because they consumed less area per tree. When assessed at an individual level, old trees were proven to age faster and absorb more carbon.
"Trees keep growing like crazy throughout their life span," said Stephenson. "They never stop," he said. "Every year, they are always putting on more weight than before."
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"In these old forests, which already hold a huge amount of carbon in them, it turns out that the star players are the biggest trees in old forests," Stephenson told Bloomberg. "If you're trying to look at the role of forests in the future and feedbacks to climatic changes, you've got to get the players right."