Rainforest Journal

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Are the trees dying?

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Are tree mortality rates higher now? One just needs to pay more attention to one’s surroundings and it will be obvious that trees are dying faster now, compared to 20-30 years ago. This phenomenon is real, and it’s something I have been observing for the past decade. Of late, I have seen many trees simply die off in forests that were absolutely not disturbed at all, and this occurred after sudden leaf flushing and then, the trees were dead!

What could be causing this?

Right now, I don’t think anybody knows. This article appeared in Science Daily, and also touched on the same subject. It’s a kind of validation for me, that certain scientists have also come to the same conclusion, and that I am not imagining this or making things up!

Dead tree

A dead tree, now a very common sight in many a jungle.

The part about trees dying off even in cities is alarming. Standing on the lookout tower atop a hill in Bukit Cerakah, the ridge just ahead shows many trees no longer present today, compared to just 15 years ago. Surely they could not all have died due to old age within such a short span of time? And aren’t trees generally supposed to live for hundreds of years?

For disbelievers, please refer to the two photos below of a patch of forest in Bukit Cerakah, that I took on different dates:

Bukit Cerakah dying forest

Bukit Cerakah forest in 2010. This photo might seem normal to you, but I have a film photo of the exact same spot 14 years earlier (1996), and it is clear so MANY of the big trees in that earlier photo are already gone from this photo taken in 2010.

Dying forest in Bukit Cerakah

Fast forward to 2013, at the exact SAME spot, and you may notice that even MORE trees have died, as evidenced from the visible trunks, that indicate gaps. Can you spot which trees are already dead from this more recent photo?

dead or dying trees

Dead or dying trees abound in Bukit Cerakah forest. It’s weird, but the forest looks as though it is slowly degrading on its own. Once the big old “pillar” trees that hold up the forest die off, the forest floor will receive more and more sunlight and secondary weeds will start invading more and more. In this photo alone, there are so many dead trees! How it would look in 5 to 10 years time I wonder?

A bit of clarification is in order. In any normal rainforest, there are bound to be dead trees, since a rainforest consists of a mosaic of forest in differing stages of development, from gaps to climax closed-canopy patches. However, since dead trees are being encountered with ever increasing frequency these days, this established theory of “rainforest dynamics” is now being seriously challenged. In an unnatural way, I suppose.



Large gaps

The trees are often dying in groups, resulting in large gaps in the forest. The dead trees stand starkly against the open sky.

Large gap caused by dead trees.

Another large canopy opening, caused by sudden, swift death of a group of trees.

And another one, a group of dead trees. The central large tree was a mighty Jelutong tree about 40 meters tall with a huge trunk about 1 meter in diameter. It was alive about 2 years ago, and looked healthy. Today (end 2015), it is dead. These tree deaths are occurring very abruptly (and swiftly).

And yet another group of dead trees. The central large tree was a mighty Jelutong tree about 40 meters tall with a huge trunk about 1 meter in diameter. It was alive about 2 years ago, and looked healthy. Today (end 2015), it is dead. These tree deaths are occurring very abruptly (and swiftly).

Dead tree trunk.

Sometimes, only the bole (trunk) is standing, the crown having disintegrated earlier.

Fallen tree in a large gap

Sometimes, the dead trees topple over, further enlarging the gap. Gaps are normal, but this is happening with increasing frequency.

One thing is certain. If trees, which are supposed to be the longest living things, are dying due to unknown reasons, this spells bad news for the other inhabitants of planet earth – including human beings. Taking into account events like mass animal die-offs, freak weather, and general ecosystem collapse (especially in our oceans), all this doesn’t paint a very nice future for the earth – as the only home we know of. Very alarming indeed.


There is strong evidence that trees are dying worldwide as a result of increasing ozone levels. One of the culprits may be the enormous amounts of methane (that further contributes to ozone) released due to fracking (a type of oil drilling), and another one may be the 2010 BP oil spill (the Gulf of Mexico region contains enormous amounts of methane), plus all the open burning going on all across the globe (case in point, being the “annual” forest destruction in Indonesia – mainly to plant/maintain vast oil palm plantations). A very good article was brought to my attention here by the author, Gail Zawacki.  http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2013/01/29/whispers-from-the-ghosting-trees/

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One Comment

  1. Mass death of trees is selective so viral infection is the cause.But no body mention that & a changed climate is held responsible. The new viruses are coming up every day. Those are more virulent as they have the artificially synthesized genes, which are used in genetic engg. Main issue is the plants only immune system innate immunity even though it was working against viruses is helpless. plants do not have adoptive immune so plant species which are dying now on large scale selectively are definitely going to be in extinction. So genetic engg or the tree? you have to choose only one.

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