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Study reveals California’s coastal redwoods can remarkably heal from severe wildfires, utilizing centuries-old carbon reserves.

A new study has brought to light the extraordinary resilience of California's coastal redwoods in recovering from severe wildfires. Researchers from Northern Arizona University (NAU) focused on these ancient giants, some over 1,500 years old, which endured the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in Big Basin State Park during the summer of 2020.

Contrary to initial beliefs, many of these redwoods, ravaged by the fire, were not dead. "Burned trees recovered through resprouting from roots, trunk and branches, necessarily supported by nonstructural carbon reserves," the study's authors explained. These reserves, accumulated over many years, provided the essential energy for the redwoods' remarkable comeback.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Plants, reveal that the redwoods used their extensive carbon storage to regenerate. New growth emerged from long-dormant buds, some buried for centuries. This process was fueled by carbon reserves, the oldest of which, used in this regrowth, is unprecedented in scientific observation.

“This study was really exciting for us because we used measurements at the atomic level — counting the amount of carbon-14 relative to carbon-12 —to understand what these sprouts, which start as tiny green shoots, are telling us about the growth strategy of these enormous trees, among the largest living organisms on earth,” shared Andrew Richardson, a Regents’ professor at Ecoss and co-author of the study.

The research also discovered that in some trees, the carbon reserves utilized might be decades or even a century old. “Sugars photosynthesized perhaps 100 years ago were used to grow new leaves in 2021,” said Drew Peltier, lead author of the study. This finding suggests that other long-lived tree species might also possess older carbon reserves than previously recognized.

While the resilience of the coastal redwoods is noteworthy, the study acknowledges the extensive damage caused by the fire. Many trees in Big Basin State Park, including various species, did not survive. The coastal redwoods, although capable of regenerating, will need centuries for the forest ecosystem to fully recover.

The research highlights the importance of understanding and preserving these ancient trees, not only for their inherent value but also for their unique role in the ecosystem and their ability to withstand and recover from extreme environmental events. The coastal redwoods' ability to tap into ancient carbon reserves underscores the complex and long-term nature of forest ecosystems, offering insights into how these majestic trees have endured through the ages.

Samira is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, but deep inside, her heart is a nomad! She's a state champion debater, a public speaker, a scriptwriter, a theater actress, but most importantly — A GREEN CITIZEN! She thinks of herself as a storyteller who thrives on enjoying the life at fullest and telling everyone the tales of life.

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