A 2,624-year-old tree found alive in an American swamp could be killed by climate change  – Science Story

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One of the oldest living trees in the world has been discovered in a North America swampland that is at least 2,624-years-old.

The bald cypress, also the oldest-known wetland tree species, was found in North Carolina forest.

Scientists established its age using carbon dating and tree-ring measurements which also revealed ancient climate patterns. 

The species is however under threat from illegal logging as well as water pollution, and rising sea levels as a result of climate change, scientists warned.

  

Geologists from the University of Arkansas discovered the ancient trees back in 2017 while studying tree rings in North Carolina’s Black River swampland. 

The ancient trees are part of an intact ecosystem that spans most of the 65mile (105km) length of the Black River. 

Using tree ring dating and radiocarbon dating they were able to establish that the bald cypress trees, also known as Taxodium distichum make up one of the oldest non-clonal, sexually reproducing trees in the world. 

Professor David Stahle, who made the discoveries, has been working in the 16,000 acres Black River Preserve since 1985.     

In 1988, he catalogued bald cypress trees that was 1,700 years old.  

Professor Stahle said: ‘It is exceedingly unusual to see an old-growth stand of trees along the whole length of a river like what he observed.

‘Bald cypress are valuable for timber and they have been heavily logged. 

‘Way less than 1 percent of the original virgin bald cypress forests have survived.’

Trees like the bald cypress are valuable for reconstructing ancient climate conditions and the oldest trees in the area have allowed geologists to piece together the climate history of the eastern United States by a further 900-years. 

They show evidence of major periods of droughts and flooding during colonial (1492-1763) and pre-colonial times (before 1492).

The work carried out by the University of Arkansas has also helped in the preservation of the ancient swampland.   

Katherine Skinner, an executive director at The Nature Conservancy that owns the Black River reserve, said: ‘Dr. Stahle’s original work on the Black River, which showed trees dating from Roman times, inspired us to begin conservation on the Black more than two decades ago.

‘This ancient forest gives us an idea of what much of North Carolina’s coastal plain looked like millennia ago. 

It is a source of inspiration and an important ecosystem. Without Dr. Stahle, it would have gone unprotected and likely destroyed.’ 

The full report has been published in the journal Environmental Research Communications.

 

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