James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

February 5, 2010

Some Evidence Suggests Trees Are Growing Faster

Filed under: biology — Tags: , — James @ 11:06 am

A Tree photo: me

In a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper from this week that has been picked up across the popular press, researchers in Maryland report that the trees they’re studying are growing measurably faster than they “should” be.

From US News and World Report:

During the past 22 years CO2 levels at SERC have risen 12%, the mean temperature has increased by nearly three-tenths of a degree and the growing season has lengthened by 7.8 days. The trees now have more CO2 and an extra week to put on weight. Parker and McMahon suggest that a combination of these three factors has caused the forest’s accelerated biomass gain.

These aren’t small changes either. The authors are quoted as saying the forests they’re taking measurements on are growing two to four times faster than they normally would. Very cool stuff. What I’d read previously suggested the increased temperatures brought about by an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere would more than cancel out the benefits to plants of having more CO2 available. Of course most of the work I read about has to do with food crops, not trees*, and trying to predict how plants will react to changes in the atmosphere and climate can get a bit circular since how plants react will also influence the state of the climate and atmosphere in decades to come.

The research article itself is open access, meaning anyone can read it for free (without having to be associated with a major research university that holds an institutional subscription, which is how I normally get access). Click here and then click the Full Text (PDF) link on the right to grab the whole paper.

h/t to Greensparrow Gardens

*Not that trees can’t produce food.


  1. Maybe we need to worry less about deforestation… they can keep up

    Comment by Haibao Tang — February 5, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  2. Not all crop species benefit from increase co2, but I’m glad to hear some evidence that temperate fores trees do at least…

    Comment by Matt — February 5, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  3. Agreed. For example I’d expect the gains from increased CO2 concentration for C4 plants like corn, sugar cane, and sorghum to be quite small if gains were observed at all, although they’re probably better positioned to cope with the rising temperatures, which, if I’m remembering this right, increases the problems with photo-respiration for C3 plants.

    Comment by James — February 5, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

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