Malaysia: Scientists discover world's tallest tropical tree in Sabah's Danum Valley

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 12 Nov 16;

KOTA KINABALU: International scientists believe they have found the world’s tallest tropical tree – right in the heart of Sabah.

The tree, the species of which has yet to be determined as it was discovered via air surveillance, stands at 94.1 metres, and has a crown diameter of 40 metres.

Although its height does not beat that of the Yayasan Sabah building (121.9 metres), it surpasses the Statue of Liberty, which stands at 92.9 metres.

The tree, discovered in the Danum Valley reserve, was one of among 49 super-tall tropical trees, with heights ranging from 70 to 90 metres, found in the area, as well as in Tabin and Maliau Basin.

The finding was announced by Prof Dr Gregory Asner, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institute of Science, during the Heart of Borneo conference held here recently. He is also the leader of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO).

The determination of the tallest tropical tree was made based on high resolution 3-Dimensional mapping of the forest, which CAO carried out in collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department.

In his presentation, Asner revealed the whereabouts of the top 50 tallest tropical trees, with 33 in the Danum Valley, 10 in Tabin, one in the Maliau Basin and others in the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) area in Sabah.

The Danum Valley, Tabin, and Maliau Basin forest reserves are under the custody of the Yayasan Sabah Foundation, which is the state government’s statutory body.

In 2007, American scientists announced the discovery of the world’s tallest tropical tree within the vicinity of Tawau Hills Park, which is under the care of Sabah Parks.

The Dipterocarpus spec tree, with the scientific name of Shorea faguetiana, was measured at 88.33 metres tall.


Lofty plans for world’s tallest tropical forest
RUBEN SARIO The Star 15 Nov 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A detailed study on the world’s tallest tropical forest is underway to determine its exact location and feasibility as an eco-tourism draw.

The forest is located within the 438sq km Danum Valley conservation area, about twice the size of Penang island.

Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said research teams would have to quantify the trees and identify their species and exact location.

“We will also have to look at the conditions of the soil and root system to determine whether it will be suitable to allow visitors there,” said Mannan.

“We don’t want to see the trees disturbed. If we feel it is safe to allow the public into the area, we can cut a track and build a station there. Our personnel will have to be in the area full time.”

He added that there was great interest in knowing more about these tallest tropical trees.

However, authorities are unsure if the species is yellow seraya or manggaris.

While American researchers had identified the tallest tree at 94.1m at the Danum Valley, Mannan said there were possibly hundreds of other trees that were at least 80m to 90m tall in the area.

He added that the tallest tropical tree was comparable to the famed Redwood forest in California, which is home to the world’s tallest tree standing between 110m and 115m.

Carnigie Airborne Observatory leader Prof Dr Gregory Asner said at the recent international conference on the Heart of Borneo here that they had identified 33 of the tallest tropical rainforest trees in Danum Valley.


World's Tallest Tropical Trees Discovered
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.
Kevin McLean National Geographic 10 Nov 16;

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.

The tree was measured with laser scanning, using technology called Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), which is essentially the laser version of RADAR. But instead of radio waves, light pulses are emitted from an airplane, bounce off the forest below, and the rate of these bounces allows for three-dimensional mapping of forests across entire landscapes in incredible detail.

LiDAR is rapidly becoming one of the most useful tools in forest research, management, and conservation. Recent applications of the technology have allowed researchers and policymakers to assess carbon stocks, track deforestation, and even uncover archeological sites.

Asner summarized the utility of the technology: “Our ability to measure forests at large scales, yet with actionable detail, is key to managing and conserving them.”

Despite the exciting discovery, Asner stressed that his analysis of the data is far from over. He showed preliminary figures of the carbon storage provided by the various forest types and land use histories across Sabah, all of which will be publicly available, a move that he hopes will help policymakers create informed conservation plans in the future.

Asner himself admits that he had at one time been skeptical of the conservation potential in Sabah. Imagery from the Landsat program, the longest-running satellite imagery operation, seemed to indicate that Sabah’s forests had all but vanished. Cynthia Ong, executive director of Forever Sabah, a local organization committed to supporting the state’s “transition to a diversified, equitable, green economy,” convinced Asner to think otherwise. After an initial scouting trip to visit some of Sabah’s protected forests, Asner and Ong sought support from the Sabah Forestry Department and other local and international organizations to fly the scanning technology over Sabah.

The research was funded by James Cameron's Avatar Alliance Foundation, the UN Development Programme, Rainforest Alliance, and WWF-Malaysia.

“Tallest tree aside, this work really highlights the value of protecting primary forests,” said Glen Reynolds, referring to forests that have had little or no human impact with intact ecological processes. Reynolds was also involved with the project as program manager for the Royal Society’s South East Asia Rainforest Research Program (SEARRP) and senior scientist at Danum Valley Field Centre, where the giant tree was located.

He added, “These ancient trees are really only found in primary forests, many of which are not properly protected. A detailed map like this will be useful for establishing conservation priorities.”

Battle of the Giant Trees

The International Heart of Borneo Conference is held annually in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, bringing together environmental leaders to present and discuss findings and needs in the region. This year the discussions were focused on conservation finance, the science-policy interface, and community engagement. The day’s presentation was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience, who will undoubtedly be awaiting further results at next year’s conference or sooner.

Kevin McLean is an ecologist and a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, who is using camera traps to study the rainforest canopy in Borneo and the Amazon. Follow his work here.

Full disclosure: McLean has published unrelated work with Greg Asner and has received assistance on his project from Glen Reynolds and Cynthia Ong, unrelated to the tree study.


Minecraft tree 'probably' the tallest tree in the Tropics
Discovery of an 89.5m tall Yellow Meranti in the Maliau Basin Conservation Area of Malaysia.
University of Cambridge Science Daily 8 Jun 16;

A tree the height of 20 London double-decker buses has been discovered in Malaysia by conservation scientists monitoring the impact of human activity on the biodiversity of a pristine rainforest. The tree, a Yellow Meranti, is one of the species that can be grown in the computer game Minecraft.

The Yellow Meranti stands 89.5m tall in an area of forest known as 'Sabah's Lost World' -- the Maliau Basin Conservation Area, one of Malaysia's last few untouched wildernesses. Its height places it ahead of the previous record-holder, an 88.3m Yellow Meranti in the Tawau Hills National Park.

The giant tree was discovered during reconnaissance flights by conservation scientists from the University of Cambridge working with the Sabah Forestry Department to help protect the area's biodiversity. It comes at a crucial time, as the Sabah government takes measures to protect and restore heavily logged areas in the region.

Measuring a tree's exact height is tricky when the tree is quite possibly the tallest tree in the Tropics. The only way is to climb it, and to take a tape measure with you. This is precisely what Unding Jami, an expert tree-climber from Sabah, did recently. When he reached the top, he confirmed the tree's height and texted "I don't have time to take photos using a good camera because there's an eagle around that keeps trying to attack me and also lots of bees flying around."

The tree actually stands on a slope: downhill it's 91m tall, and uphill it's around 88m tall. "We'd put it at 89.5m on average," explains lead researcher Dr David Coomes, from Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences. "It's a smidgen taller than the record, which makes it quite probably the tallest tree recorded in the Tropics!"

At this height, the tree is roughly equivalent to the height of 65 people standing on each other's shoulders, or 20 double-decker London buses. It's just a few metres short of London's Big Ben.

"Trees in temperate regions, like the giant redwoods, can grow up to 30m taller; yet around 90m seems to be the limit in the Tropics. No-one knows why this should be the case," adds Coomes.

The tree was spotted using a LiDAR scanner -- a machine that's capable of producing exquisitely detailed three-dimensional images of rainforest canopies over hundreds of square kilometres. Its laser range finder hangs from the undercarriage of the research plane, peppering the forest with 200,000 laser pulses every second, and calculating distances in 3D from each reflected pulse. The researchers then 'stitch' the images together, enabling them to map the forest tree by tree.

Threatened by habitat loss, the Yellow Meranti (Shorea faguetiana) is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature 'Red list', the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species.

"Interestingly, there may be more of this tree in cyberspace than in the world. It's one of the trees that players can grow in the computer game Minecraft," adds Coomes.

"Conserving these giants is really important. Some, like the California redwoods, are among the largest and longest-living organisms on earth. Huge trees are crucial for maintaining the health of the forest and its ecology. But they are difficult to find, and monitor regularly, which is where planes carrying LiDAR can help."

Globally, around one billion hectares of degraded forest might be restorable, enabling then to continue to contribute to the planet's biodiversity and its carbon and water cycles. However, a major problem faced by conservation managers is how to survey extensive areas in which conditions can vary in just a few hundred square metres and are continually changing through natural regeneration. "LiDAR scanning together with digital photography and hyperspectral scanners now provide us with unprecedented information on the state of the forest," explains Coomes.

With funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Cambridge scientists worked with the Sabah Forestry Department, the South-East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership and the NERC Airborne Remote Sensing Facility.

"The Sabah government is extremely proud of this discovery, which lays credence to the fact that our biodiversity is of global importance," says Sam Mannan, Director of the Sabah Forestry Department. "Our international collaboration, as in this case, has brought great scientific dividends to the state and we shall continue to pursue such endeavours."

Adds Coomes: "The discovery of this particular tree comes at a critical moment because, set against a backdrop of decades of forest loss, the Sabah government has decided to protect and restore a huge tract of heavily logged forest just to the east of the Maliau Basin. It's exciting to know that these iconic giants of the forest are alive and well so close to this major restoration project."

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