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Tropical Trees Use Social Distancing to Promote Forest Diversity

In News: A recent study has revealed that mature tropical trees exhibit a form of "social distancing" by strategically spacing....

In News: A recent study has revealed that mature tropical trees exhibit a form of “social distancing” by strategically spacing themselves apart from other individuals of the same species. This behavior, akin to social distancing, plays a crucial role in promoting biodiversity within the ecosystem.

Context: Adult trees in a Panamian forest were three times as distant from other adults of the same species than would be expected.

About Panamian Forest

  • Panama is one of the countries with most natural diversity in the world.
  • The tropical climate with high temperatures and humidity supports an abundance of species of plants and animals.
  • Mixed evergreen and deciduous forests dominate Panama’s landscape, interrupted by mangrove swamps, grasslands, crops and scrub.
  • Panama is home to more than 10.000 variations of plants, including more than 1,500 different tree species, 675 types of fern and 1,200 kinds of orchids.
  • Moreover, 12.4% of the plants are endemic to Panama.
  • The country also has some 1,569 species of mammals (231), birds (985), amphibians, and reptiles, of which 5.5% are endemic and 6.1% are endangered at a local or global level, including jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundis, margays and pumas.
  • Panama’s forests contain 367 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass.
  • Biodiversity and Protected Areas: Panama has some 1569 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Study Location and Background

  • Researchers collected data from Barro Colorado Island, Panama Canal.
  • The site has been studied by the University of Texas at Austin for a century.

Distance Between Adult Trees and Seed Travel

  • Researchers noted that the distance between adult trees of the same species is greater than typical seed travel distances.
  • This phenomenon raises questions about young trees’ proximity to their parent trees.

Preventing Proximity to Parent Trees

  • The main explanation is to prevent young trees from establishing near their parent trees.
  • This behavior aims to enhance species diversity within the forest.

Computational Models Reveal Intra-Species Impact

  • Computational models highlighted that trees of the same species negatively affect each other more than other species.
  • The phenomenon contradicts the saying “birds of a feather flock together.”

Shared Enemies: Fungus and Insects

  • Individual trees of the same species share common “enemies” like fungus and insects.
  • These pathogens create opportunities for other species to establish nearby.

Diverse Forest through Pathogen Interaction

  • Pathogens open space for other species around each tree.
  • This leads to increased diversity in the forest as no single species can dominate.

Pathogen Protection through Social Distancing

  • Trees practice a form of “social distancing” to protect themselves from pathogens spread by same-species members.
  • This distancing strategy contributes to the overall health and biodiversity of the forest.

Tropical trees 

Tropical trees are an essential part of the world’s biodiversity. They are found in the tropics, a region of the Earth near the equator that experiences warm temperatures throughout the year. This region includes parts of South and Central America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Carbon cycle

  • Tropical trees are known for their diverse species and are critical to the global carbon cycle.
  • They play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
  • This makes them vital to human survival and combating climate change.


  • Some tropical trees, like the kapok and the ceiba, can reach astonishing heights, often growing over 200 feet tall.
  • Their thick, large canopies provide habitats for a myriad of other plant and animal species.


  • Tropical trees often have broad leaves to maximize photosynthesis, given the abundant sunlight in these regions.
  • Many species also have buttress roots.
  • These are large, wide roots at the base of the tree that provide support to the tall and heavy trees, helping them extract nutrients from the often nutrient-poor tropical soil.


  • Tropical trees also produce a variety of fruits that are essential to the local ecology and economy.
  • These include bananas, cocoa, coffee, mangoes, and many others.

Know About Computational models

What is computational modeling?

The use of computers to simulate and study complex systems using mathematics, physics and computer science

How is computational modeling used to study complex systems?

  • Weather forecasting models make predictions based on numerous atmospheric factors. Accurate weather predictions can protect life and property and help utility companies plan for power increases that occur with extreme climate shifts.
  • Flight simulators use complex equations that govern how aircraft fly and react to factors such as turbulence, air density, and precipitation. Simulators are used to train pilots, design aircraft, and study how aircraft are affected as conditions change.
  • Earthquake simulations aim to save lives, buildings, and infrastructure. Computational models predict how the composition, and motion of structures interact with the underlying surfaces to affect what happens during an earthquake.

Social Distancing of Tropical Trees

Read Also: Shola Vegetation Are In Threat To Extinction Due To Excessive Of Invasive Species Of Plants

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