Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Towering Emergent

A friend who is both a geographer and a librarian (great combination!) recently shared the story of a very tall tree. Indeed, this beautiful 290-foot angelim vermelho is the tallest tree ever measured in the Amazon rain forest. 

Image: Imazon/Idelflor/AFP

An October article in Nature tells the story of this tree, which emerges so high above the surrounding canopy that the individual tree was identified by remote sensing. Its distance from roads and rivers made it very difficult to reach and this indeed is what has allowed it to grow to this size. Even knowing exactly where it was, researchers spent a lot of time and effort to reach it. 

And to protect it, the location is described only vaguely in the article; they indicate only that it is somewhere in the reserve shown below, well to the west of Belem. Wood poachers sometimes destroy large tracts of forest on their way to harvesting a single specimen like this.

The article does not use the term "emergent" but that is what such towering trees are called. They require an enormous base of buttresses for support, because roots reach only a few inches into the surprisingly poor rainforest soils.

The Environmental Geographer showing off the 
buttresses of a much smaller tree in a different
part of the Amazon in 2003.

The article mentions not only the hardships of the journey to the single tree in Amapá, but also a large number of people involved in the work. I remember a presentation by a scientist who mounted a similar expedition to find rare lemurs in Madagascar. She and a photographer and a guide were going, but they needed people to cook food, carry the cameras, and carry the tents. And then those people needed more tents, food, and the like. In this way an expedition of 2-3 people quickly becomes almost two dozen.


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