Photograph by Norbert Rosing, Nat Geo Image Collection
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These oak trees in western Germany are approximately 1,000 years old. Old trees like these are dying at much faster rates than young trees, a new study finds.

The grand old trees of the world are dying, leaving forests younger and shorter

The effects on wildlife and the ability of forests to store CO2 from fossil fuels could be enormous.

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California’s giant sequoias can live for more than 3,000 years, their trunks stretching two car lengths in diameter, their branches reaching nearly 300 feet toward the clouds. But a few years ago, amid a record drought, scientists noticed something odd. A few of these arboreal behemoths inside Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were dying in ways no one had ever documented—from the top down.

When researchers climbed into the canopies, they discovered that cedar bark beetles had bored into a few branches. By 2019, at least 38 of the trees had died—not a large number, but "concerning because we’ve never observed this before,” says Christy Brigham, the park’s chief of resource management.

Beetles have ravaged hundreds of millions of pines across North America. But scientists had assumed that stately sequoias, with their bug-repelling tannins, were immune to such dangerous pests. Worried experts are investigating whether some mix of increased drought and wildfire, both worsened by climate change, have now made even sequoias susceptible to deadly insect invasions.

If so, these ancient sentinels would be just the latest example of...

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