Trees can live for many centuries with sustained fecundity and death is largely stochastic. We use a neutral stochastic model to examine tree demographic patterns that emerge over time, across a range of population sizes and empirically observed mortality rates. A small proportion of trees (~1% at 1.5% mortality) are life-history ‘lottery winners’, achieving ages >10–20× the median age. Maximum age increases with bigger populations and lower mortality rates. One-quarter of trees (~24%) achieve ages that are three to four times greater than the median age. Three age classes (mature, old and ancient) contribute unique evolutionary diversity across complex environmental cycles. Ancient trees are an emergent property of forests that requires many centuries to generate. They radically change variance in generation time and population fitness, bridging centennial environmental cycles. These life-history ‘lottery’ winners are vital to long-term forest adaptive capacity and provide invaluable data about environmental history and individual longevity. Old and ancient trees cannot be replaced through restoration or regeneration for many centuries. They must be protected to preserve their invaluable diversity.
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The data used in the analyses were generated from the code provided. The authors strongly recommend that the data be generated directly from the code to demonstrate the reliability of the methods and to verify that the results are the same in different computing environments and settings. Computation time to generate the dataset was less than 8 h on a MacBook Pro with 2.5 Ghz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM. The original dataset used in this publication is available upon request from the corresponding author.
The models and analyses were written in the Mathematica 12 programming environment. A notebook containing the simulation model and the code used to produce the results and figures has been uploaded to the publication website. Code can also be provided upon request by the corresponding author.
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C.H.C. thanks J. R. Harting for discussions about model development during the very early stages of this project. Research in S.M.-B. laboratory is supported by the PID2019-110335GB-I00 /AEI grant from the Spanish Government and through an ICREA Academia award and 2017 SGR 980 grant from the Catalan Government. G.P.’s research on sessile oak and beech longevity was funded respectively by Aspromonte and Pollino National Parks.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Cannon, C.H., Piovesan, G. & Munné-Bosch, S. Old and ancient trees are life history lottery winners and vital evolutionary resources for long-term adaptive capacity. Nat. Plants 8, 136–145 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-021-01088-5
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