Laser scanning in Borneo has revealed 50 trees that break previous records. The giants are about as tall as five sperm whales stacked end to end.
The tallest tropical tree in the world is right where we thought it was—in a protected forest reserve in the state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. But it’s not the one we thought.
Greg Asner of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) revealed the new record holder this week in his keynote speech at the 2016 International Heart of Borneo Conference.
Earlier this year a team of researchers led by David Coomes of Cambridge University made headlines with their announcement of the tallest tropical tree measuring 89.5 meters (293.6 feet) in Maliau Basin, a protected reserve managed by the Sabah Forestry Department.
However, concurrent laser scanning in May 2016 across a broad swath of Sabah’s forests conducted by Asner shows that one behemoth tree on a hillside in Danum Valley, another protected reserve, measures 94.1 meters (308.7 feet), surpassing the Maliau specimen for the honor of the world’s tallest tropical tree.
The tallest known trees anywhere are California redwoods, which live in the temperate zone. They have been measured up to nearly 116 meters (380 feet).
The large-scale census in Borneo covered many of Sabah’s protected forests, and actually pinpointed 50 trees that broke the previous record scattered across the state—33 in Danum Valley, 10 in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, and 10 within the United Nations Development Program’s biodiversity conservation project area.
He also found that the Maliau Basin tree was in fact just over 90 meters tall, adding that “either that tree grew half a meter or one of us is wrong”—a collegial nod to Coomes, who worked closely with Asner on his work in Sabah.
For reference, Asner noted in his talk that the height of the Danum Valley tree was about equal to five sperm whales stacked snout-to-fluke, an image enjoyed by the audience of scientists, government officials, and public and private stakeholders working in the Heart of Borneo—an area in the interior of the island of Borneo that includes parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.
Since the tree was measured remotely, scientists aren't sure which species it is, although it is likely in the genus Shorea, they say. That group includes nearly 200 species of mostly rainforest trees native to Southeast Asia.
The trees can live for hundreds of years but many are endangered. Borneo has more than 130 of the species, including 91 found nowhere else. A number of the species are prized for their lumber.
Labels: Borneo, Danum Valley, Maliau Basin