Minecraft
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An article published on June 8th, 2016 by the University of Cambridge noted that a new record-holder for the tallest tree in the tropics is the same species as a tree used in the extremely popular game Minecraft. The trees in Minecraft proceed to follow standard growth patterns from saplings to mature trees. Care has been taken by game designers to adjust leaf color and the colors of the surrounding foliage to depict a certain setting. There are even provisions for dying or fallen trees which in the game are often covered in mushrooms and vines. Some of these decomposing trees will actually resprout and begin growth again as saplings. Trees available for planting are grouped into Acacia (Acacia spp.), Birch (Betula spp.), Oak (Quercus spp.) and Dark Oak (Q. spp), Jungle (no specific species), and Spruce (Picea spp.) species and can each be found and grown in a unique biome environment. Several of these tree species (i.e. Acacia, Oak) are also researched here at Purdue.

In the game, a Yellow meranti (Shorea faguetiana or Shorea acuminatissima); also known as the Philippine mahogany, is one of the selections available for use. This species is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand but is severely threatened by habitat loss and destruction. Yellow meranti can grow upwards of 200 ft tall and greater than 6 ft in diameter. The wood from the tree is lightweight, durable, and has been used for everything from light furniture to crates. The wood more often than not also contains figure which makes it a valuable commodity in the veneer industry as well.

The spotlight has been put on Minecraft after the recent discovery of a 294 ft tall Yellow meranti tree growing in the Maliau Basin Conservation Area in Malaysia. This area is one of the few regions on earth where pristine rainforest ecosystems are being actively monitored and protected. This tree is actually growing on a downhill slope thus its actual height has been recorded as 299 ft. This tree is slightly taller than the previous record and makes it the “unofficial” tallest tree in the Tropics.

The use of actual tree species that require maintenance in a game that has player numbers in the millions to help inform the young and old alike about the value of trees and some of the different species is genius.

More than 12 million people play Minecraft on the PC, 9 million people play on Xbox, and 6 million people play it on the iPad, iPod, or Android. More than 20,000 people buy the game daily, 3.2 million people log on and play it each day (on all of the versions), and 5 people per second buy the game. Thus, nearly 28 million people own the game and more than 1 million are logged in at any given time day or night. All of these individuals are being taught about trees and how to maintain them without even realizing how much they have learned. With news of a movie version of Minecraft being scripted, untold numbers of movie goers will likely buy the game beforehand and learn even more about trees.

The Malaysian government is extremely proud of the potential world record discovery within their forests and seek to highlight the importance of maintaining the biodiversity within the country. Their collaboration with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Cambridge University, the Sabah Forestry Department, the South-East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership and the NERC Airborne Remote Sensing Facility has been extremely fortuitous. Future plans are to protect and restore a huge tract of heavily logged forest east of where this Yellow meranti tree was found.

For more information on Malaysia's potentially record-breaking tree, check out Cambridge University's article Minecraft tree "probably" the tallest tree in the Tropics.

Resources:
Got Nature? - Purdue Extension-FNR Blog
Minecraft tree "probably" the tallest tree in the Tropics Research Article- Cambridge University
Forest Improvement Handbook - The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
Planting Forest Trees and Shrubs in Indiana - The Education Store
Resources and Assistance Available for Planting Hardwood Seedlings - The Education Store 
Tree - Foliage colors - Minecraft Wiki
Yellow Meranti - The Wood Database

Dr. Shaneka Lawson, USDA Forest Service/HTIRC Research Plant Physiologist/Adjunct Assistant Professor
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources