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Dating Rainforest Trees

How Old are Rainforest Trees?

Have you ever stopped to think about how old the trees in your backyard are? How about trees in a city park or a national forest? Chances are in many of these places, the trees have been around for quite some time.

What about the rainforest? How old do you think those trees might be?

Scientists have been busy studying the age of Amazon rainforest trees. Using a special test called radiocarbon dating, they have been able to pinpoint the dates of many trees in the rainforest. Radiocarbon dating, or carbon dating as it commonly known, measures the levels of decayed radioactive carbon present in the tree to determine its age.

Age Rainforest Trees Costa Rican Rainforest
Among the data collected by scientists was the astonishing finding that more than half of the trees studied measuring more than four inches (approximately ten centimeters) in diameter were more than three centuries old. That is 300 hundred years! This means that these trees were alive at a time when the English colonies were being settled in North America. The scientists even found trees that dated to between 750 and 1000 years old.

What does this mean for scientists studying the rainforest? For one, it helps to explain why some trees grow more slowly than others. For another, it suggests that the rainforest may take longer than was originally thought to recover from events like logging.

Something to Think About:  Based on what you have read, why might scientists be more concerned about the impact of logging on the rainforest? 

Want to Learn More? Visit Monga Bay for more information about tree dating in the Amazon rainforest and the Rainforest Conservation Fund to learn more about the vegetation of the rainforest.

Rainforest Kids Science curriculum connection: Unit 5, Chapter 1, Lesson 1, GK-5
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