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Ancient trees in Amazonia


The ages of tropical rain forest trees provide critical information for understanding the dynamics of tree populations, determining historical patterns of disturbance, developing sustainable forestry practices and calculating carbon cycling rates. Nevertheless, the ecological life history of most tropical trees is unknown and even the ages of the largest trees remain to be determined. Tree ages are typically measured by counting annual rings, but in tropical forests rings can be non-existent, annual or irregular1. In the absence of annual rings, 14C dating is the only way to determine the age of a tree directly. We have 14C-dated twenty large, emergent trees from a central Amazon rain forest and find that, contrary to conventional views, trees in these forests can be more than 1,400 years old.

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Figure 1: Radiocarbon dates for central Amazon trees.


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Chambers, J., Higuchi, N. & Schimel, J. Ancient trees in Amazonia. Nature 391, 135–136 (1998).

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