Branching out: what can we learn from trees?

TREES ARE THE lungs of the Earth, nature’s memory stick, even at a molecular level. Every layer of fresh weight trees accumulate contain a bit of the air, converted into carbon. Trees literally wear the air we breathe, an

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d produce it too. They inspire us, remain intact throughout the harshest of situations, and remind us all that life goes on.

We turn over a new leaf, our ideas blossom and we branch out. Trees provide metaphors that allow us to reach our best potential, and rightly so – they have been the base of many eureka moments. Where was Sir Isaac Newton when he developed the thought of gravitational theory? Where was Buddha when he discovered enlightenment? Remember Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas and her wisdom. In some cases, trees are a huge comfort, especially for Anne Frank during the Second World War. The chestnut tree outside her house allowed her to mark the seasons, and experience what it was like to be outside. The tree was felled in 2010.

Demonstrated by the National Geographic, trees represent integrity, strength and loyalty. After the conflagration of 9/11 reduced the 110 story World Trade Centre towers to mere metal carcasses on the ground, within the midst of the rubble and smoke, remained a pear tree, only scarred on one side. The tree became the emblem not only of mourning but resilience. Each year many of us bring Christmas trees into our homes and can produce our own food right from our gardens, not to mention the paper we use every day. These are all by choice, but really, we couldn’t live without trees.

Some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year – the equivalent to 48 football fields every minute, say WWF

Oxygen is produced as a by-product of photosynthesis, the mechanism for nutrient and sugar production from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. The products can be transported around the tree until needed. Photosynthesis occurs through two reactions: the light dependent reaction and the light independent reaction that take place within the granum and stroma compartments of chloroplasts respectively. During the light dependent reaction, light energy is trapped in the integral membrane protein, PSII, and boosts electrons to a higher energy level. The electrons are passed from an acceptor to PSI which is at a lower energy level, producing ATP. The electrons which have been removed from the chlorophyll are replaced by pulling in other electrons from a water molecule. The loss of electrons from the water molecule causes it to dissociate into protons and oxygen gas. The protons from the water molecule combine with the electrons from the second acceptor and these reduce NADP.

Image: Flickr

 

In the light independent reaction, CO2 diffuses into the leaf through the stomata. It then travels into the stroma of the chloroplast. The CO2 then combines with a five carbon molecule forming an unstable six carbon intermediate. The six carbon intermedate breaks down into two separate three carbon molecules. Pairs of triose phosphate molecules can combine to produce an intermediate hexose sugar, which can then be polymerised to form lipids, amino acids, sugars and starch. A portion of the triose phosphate reacts to restart the process.

You don’t need to be a tree surgeon or environmental ecologist to appreciate them. According to the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, there are a documented 60, 065 tree species on earth, with 8715 in Brazil alone, though many face extinction. Trees are home to an extensive list of animal and insect species, in which many remain undiscovered. Forests conserve around 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, and 1.6 billion people depend on them for their livelihood. Tropical forests contribute massively to climate patterns, acting as carbon sinks and soaking up carbon dioxide, and with constant warm temperatures and tremendous amounts of rainfall, housing the most complex web of animals, plants, bacteria and fungi.

The market forces of globalisation are invading the Amazon, hastening the death of the forest and frustrating its most loyal stewards. In the past three decade-

Image: Wikimedia Commons

s, hundreds of people have died in land wars, with countless in fear and uncertainty, their lives threatened by those who profit from the Amazon’s timber and land. Deforestation is more of an issue today than it has ever been. It comes in many forms, including fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching and development, unsustainable logging for timber, and degradation due to climate change.

According to WWF, some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year – the equivalent to 48 football fields every minute. Not only does deforestation hurt millions of plant and animal species through loss of habitat, it also drives climate change and leads to even more temperature swings. The most feasible solution to eliminate clear-cutting is to replant new trees – “The number of new tree plantations is growing each year, but their total still equals a tiny fraction of the Earth’s forested land.”

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