When you hear the word hero you might imagine superpowers, billowing capes, firefighters saving people from burning buildings, surgeons performing life-saving operations.
What you might not think of are trees.
We know climate change is one of the greatest threats we currently face and it turns out trees are one of the things that can help us mitigate the effects of climate crisis and secure a healthier, more liveable planet for all.
Let us tell you how.
Trees store carbon
Acting as the lungs of the planet, through the process of photosynthesis, trees pull carbon out of the air and store it away within their trunks, roots and the surrounding soil. And we’re not just talking about small amounts of carbon here, either. It’s estimated that Australian forests are currently storing 22 billion tonnes of carbon. This is the same as the total emissions from 4.7 billion cars
Plus, it takes just four trees to store the same amount of carbon the average car produces in a year. Go trees!
It’s important to remember that not all trees are the same when it comes to carbon capture and storage. Some research suggests the older a tree, the better it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. In some cases, approximately 70% of all carbon stored in trees accumulated during the second half of their lives. This is a perfect example of why, while planting new trees is fantastic, it’s crucial we protect mature trees and forests from destruction.
All of this impressive carbon capture helps lower overall CO² emissions and slow global heating, in turn reducing the impacts of rising temperatures and disasters like floods. And that’s something we all want.
Trees regulate our weather patterns
So you might have heard about the carbon thing, but did you know trees also play a crucial role in regulating our weather cycles?
Have you ever noticed that it gets misty over forests or feels much cooler when you’re walking through trees? That’s no coincidence.
By using what’s called evapotranspiration, trees pull water up through their roots, into their trunks and throughout their branches, where it eventually is released back into the air through tiny pores in the tree’s leaves. This release of moisture cools surrounding temperatures and helps form rain clouds that then rain water back down onto the forest. It’s an endless and vital cycle. In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of the rainfall over land happens because of water vapour that is released into the atmosphere by trees.
And while they’re busy transpiring all that water, trees also inadvertently cool the surrounding air. Individual trees can transpire hundreds of litres of water per day, and for every 100 litres, trees have the daily cooling power equivalent to two average household air conditioning units.
These lowered temperatures are vitally important for the health of many plants and animals by regulating the microclimates they need to survive.
Trees can stabilise the earth and reduce the impacts of natural disasters
As they grow, trees drive their roots deep into the ground in search of water and to ensure they can stand tall and strong against the wind.
In doing so, these roots also stabilise the soil around them by forming interlacing networks under the ground. This means the ground is more resilient against heavy rains and flooding, as moisture seeps into the soil and stays there, allowing the earth to take up even more water rather than it pooling on the dry ground and running all over the place. If you’ve ever watered a pot plant and had to give it a second drink before it soaked anything up, you’ll know exactly what we mean!
So, not only does this mean there’s less run-off of water into places we don’t want it, like people’s homes, it also means the soil stays put rather than forming vast amounts of mud that can potentially create dangerous situations like landslides.
Trees are homes for wildlife
So, we know that trees help us combat climate change and its effects, but they also provide stability and protection for our wildlife as they experience these changes. They are so important that approximately 700 threatened animal species across Australia depend in some way on forests.
More and more, we are turning to technology to help us tackle the ever-growing environmental crisis. But the irony is that an important part of the solution already exists and has done for millions of years - trees.
How? Trees play many crucial roles for our iconic animals, such as providing food in the form of leaves, fruits, seeds and flowers. They also are important places of refuge for animals, whether used to shelter from unpleasant weather or as a permanent home to rest and raise their young.
Hands up if you’ve ever seen a parrot or possum sticking their heads out of a hole in a tree trunk before disappearing back to safety? Tree hollows are essential for many Australian species and can take up to 250 years to form - another reason it’s so important to conserve mature trees rather than planting new ones.
Even tree roots play a role in providing safety and shelter for animals. Trees growing along the edges of, or in, waterways play nursery to juvenile fish, who hide in the roots for protection from predators.
Our well-being. Our communities. Our wildlife. Our planet. We all need trees to survive.
Head to wwf.org.au/we-all-need-trees to learn more and find out easy ways to help us protect trees into the future.