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Ancient redwoods recover from fire by sprouting 10...
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After a devastating conflagration, trees regrow using energy stored long ago

A fire in August 2020 reached high into the canopy of a redwood forest in California.Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

When lightning ignited fires around California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park north of Santa Cruz in August 2020, the blaze spread quickly. Redwoods naturally resist burning, but this time flames shot through the canopies of 100-meter-tall trees, incinerating the needles. “It was shocking,” says Drew Peltier, a tree ecophysiologist at Northern Arizona University. “It really seemed like most of the trees were going to die.”

Yet many of them lived. In a paper published yesterday in Nature Plants, Peltier and his colleagues help explain why: The charred survivors, despite being defoliated, mobilized long-held energy reserves—sugars that had been made from sunlight decades earlier—and poured them into buds that had been lying dormant under the bark for centuries.

“This is one of those papers that challenges our previous knowledge on tree growth,” says Adrian Rocha, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Notre Dame. “It is amazing to learn that carbon taken up decades ago can be used to sustain its growth into the future.” The findings suggest redwoods have the tools to cope with catastrophic fires driven by climate change, Rocha says. Still, it’s unclear whether the trees could withstand the regular infernos that might occur under a warmer climate regime.

Ancient redwoods recover from fire by sprouting 1000-year-old buds


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