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Tropical Trees Socially Distance Themselves

Tropical forests are the most biologically diverse land-based ecosystems on the planet, sometimes nurturing hundreds of tree species within one square mile. The concentration of diversity is astounding, even to scientists.

Tropical forest

In a new study conducted in a Panamanian forest, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) discovered that adult trees were three times farther away from other adults of the same species than from those of different species, effectively distancing themselves in order to flourish.

“A tree is more likely to survive when surrounded by different tree species with different resource needs, diseases, and herbivores,” the authors of the study wrote.

The researchers examined data from a century-old research plot on the Panama Canal’s Barro Colorado Island and found that the trees’ distance from each other was much farther than seeds usually travel during dispersal, a press release from UT Austin said.

“This is a steppingstone to understanding the dynamics of things like carbon storage that matter in relation to climate change,” said Annette Ostling, one of the authors of the study. “It’s such a fundamental question that, even if the applications are not yet known, there’s still a lot to learn, and this is one ingredient in understanding.”

The study was published in the journal Science.



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