Tallest trees on Earth
The general idea says forests are ecosystems comprising of trees. But it was Stephen Sillett who discovered the forest in the trees.
Stephen was an explorer since childhood. He grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with his brother Scott. When they visited their grandparents near Gettysburg their grandmother Helen Poe Sillett took them to the nearby forest and mountains to birdwatch. She taught them to identify various songbirds, plants, lichens and several other creatures.
Both Scott and Stephen developed their interests around these learnings and experiences. Scott became a research scientist specializing in migratory birds whereas Stephen was more interested in trees. By the time he was in college, Stephen’s curiosity pulled him to the tallest trees on earth: the ancient coast redwoods of North California. Redwoods have a lifespan of around 2000 years within which they can grow up to 380 feet tall having 20 feet wide trunks.
In 1987, Stephen along with his brother Scott and friend Marwood went to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California. They went deep inside the forest to find the tallest tree. The lowest branch of their target tree was 100 feet tall thus far beyond their reach. There was another shorter tree growing next to the target tree. Stephen used this tree to reach his target tree and jumped through the gap without any ropes or safety gear. He reached the branches of his target tree and Marwood followed him up. Both of them free climbed to the redwood’s crown. Stephen came across lichens, he noticed the higher he went, the thicker the branches were. He also found moist beds of soil many inches thick, made from needles, bark, fallen dust and other debris on the top of the thick branches. There were huckleberry growing at the pinnacle of the tree. Stephen continued his expeditions with safety gears afterwards and measured the architecture of the branches and tree trunks.
Stephen became an expert in the ecology of the tallest trees on Earth and rich diversity of life in their crowns. He discovered the life that no one had imagined. There are ferns, fungi and trees normally found at ground level at the high branches of these natural skyscrapers. Ants, bumblebees, mites, beetles, earthworms and aquatic crustacean copepods make their homes alongside flowering plants like Rhododendron, Currant and Elderberry bushes. Birds like Ospreys, spotted owls and jays search for food. A Pacific seabird Marbled Murrelet migrates to build its nest there. Squirrels and Voles and the Wandering Salamander also live on the tallest trees.
Stephen Sillett’s research has changed the way we view the tallest of trees. They are not just individual organisms but serve as habitats to several species and as ecosystems in themselves. Thus the research is of importance and enforces the ideas of forest conservation.