World's Largest Tree Passes Health Check

Giant sequoia 'seems to be a very healthy tree that's able to fend off any beetle attack'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 24, 2024 1:43 PM CDT
World's Largest Tree Passes Health Check
Researchers climb General Sherman, the world's largest tree, in Sequoia National Park.   (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

High in the evergreen canopy of General Sherman, the world's largest tree, researchers searched for evidence of an emerging threat to giant sequoias: bark beetles. The climbers descended the towering 2,200-year-old California tree with good news this week, the AP reports. The General Sherman tree is doing fine right now," said Anthony Ambrose, executive director of the Ancient Forest Society, who led the expedition. "It seems to be a very healthy tree that's able to fend off any beetle attack." It was the first time climbers had scaled the iconic 275-foot sequoia tree, which draws tourists from around the world to Sequoia National Park.

  • Giant sequoias, the Earth's largest living things, have survived for thousands of years in California's western Sierra Nevada range, the only place where the species is native. But as the climate grows hotter and drier, giant sequoias previously thought to be almost indestructible are increasingly threatened by extreme heat, drought, wildfires—and beetles.
  • Bark beetles are native to California and have co-existed with sequoias for thousands of years. But only recently have they been able to kill the trees. Scientists say they recently discovered about 40 sequoia trees that have died from beetle infestations, mostly within the national parks.
  • If left unchecked, the tiny beetles can kill a tree within six months. That's why park officials allowed Ambrose and his colleagues to climb General Sherman. Authorities are testing whether drones aided by satellite imagery can detect infestations on a larger scale.
  • In 2020 and 2021, record-setting wildfires killed as much as 20% of the world's 75,000 mature sequoias, according to park officials. "The most significant threat to giant sequoias is climate-driven wildfires," says Ben Blom, director of stewardship and restoration at Save the Redwoods League. "But we certainly don't want to be caught by surprise by a new threat, which is why we're studying these beetles now."
(More giant sequoias stories.)

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