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Trees’ growth keeps climbing with age

Oldest specimens pack on weight fastest, making them potentially best carbon collectors

TREE OF LIFE  Big, old trees such as this Shorea smithiana tend to grow faster than smaller, younger ones. Most tree species continuously get bigger as they age.

As trees grow older and bigger, they bulk up faster and faster, researchers report January 15 in Nature.

The findings revise scientists’ understanding of big trees’ role in stockpiling carbon drawn from the air.

“This will come as a surprise for many people,” says forest ecologist Maurizio Mencuccini of the University of Edinburgh. “The basic perception is that trees are less capable of growing as they age.”

For years, many scientists believed that trees’ growth was quick in the beginning and tapered off in old age. But the evidence for this pattern is mostly indirect, says study coauthor Nathan Stephenson, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Three Rivers, Calif.

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