The giant trees of the Amazon basin

The tallest trees currently found on Earth have reached their great heights by persisting and growing for centuries in the face of multiple hazards (Lindenmayer and Laurance 2016). The tropical rainforests of South America are not traditionally thought to harbor trees as tall as those on other continents. However, we present new evidence of giant trees in the Amazon basin. The discovery of such trees is important in the context of the ongoing critical threats to biodiversity from deforestation, habitat degradation, and climate change (Laurance et al2000; Lindenmayer et al2012).

Our analysis of 594 airborne laser transects (375 ha each; WebFigure 1) obtained from airborne laser scanning (ALS) surveys conducted within the Amazon basin led to the discovery of a tree with a height of 88.5 m (Figure 1). It is surrounded by seven other trees taller than 80 m and many more above 75 m (WebFigure 2). The tree is located in a remote region, between Pará and Amapá states, at a straight‐line distance of 360 km from the Atlantic Ocean, 280 km from the Amazon River delta, and 220 km from the closest city; it lies approximately 220 m above sea level (WebFigure 3). Additional details about the ALS surveys and data processing are provided in WebPanel 1. The region is accessible only via military helicopters or in small boats up the Jari River, a rapidly flowing watercourse containing numerous waterfalls and carnivorous fish that make navigation dangerous and slow.

Our high‐resolution ALS surveys across 222,750 ha provided unprecedented information on the existence of record‐breaking tall trees in the Amazon basin. However, the detection of these emergent canopies has implications beyond merely documenting an ecological novelty. Given the sensitivity of trees in the Amazon to droughts, logging, and forest fragmentation, we urge the protection of these globally important forests.