Researchers discovered the Yellow Meranti "Minecraft" tree while using a laser scanning system that precisely measures the topography of the forest's canopy. Photo by Cambridge/YouTube/screenshot
KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia, June 8 (UPI) -- Researchers believe a Yellow Meranti tree discovered in Malaysia is the tallest in the tropics. The tree stands just more than 293 feet tall, besting the last presumed record holder by only a few inches.
Because the Yellow Meranti can be grown in the computer game Minecraft, it is sometimes called the "Minecraft" tree. This particular Minecraft tree was discovered in a region Malaysia's Maliau Basin Conservation Area known as "Sabah's Lost World."
Conservationists with the University of Cambridge and the Sabah Forestry Department spotted the giant with a LiDAR scanner while conducting aerial surveys of the region's wilderness.
Unding Jami, a local tree climbing expert, shimmied to the top of the giant with a tape measure in tow.
"I don't have time to take photos using a good camera because there's an eagle around that keeps trying to attack me and also lots of bees flying around," Jami said in a news release.
Oxford scientists are currently working with forest managers in Malaysia to restore portions of wilderness decimated by logging in recent decades. Locating and protecting large trees are an important part of the process.
"Huge trees are crucial for maintaining the health of the forest and its ecology," said David Coomes, a plant scientist at Cambridge and lead researcher on the survey effort. "But they are difficult to find, and monitor regularly, which is where planes carrying LiDAR can help."
Earlier this year, scientists in Australia published research documenting the unique challenges of protecting giant trees.
"They're really the breadbaskets, the supermarkets, of the forest," said Bill Laurance, a tropical ecologist at James Cook University. "This is a very environmentally and ecologically important group of organisms, and they need special care and handling."