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In my fantasy world, there's 'magic' which is produced by trees; flowing from the roots up to the branches, which send out the magic into the atmosphere, allowing it to flow through all life. Humans are able to utilise this magic in various ways (controlling the shape and movement of wood etc) whereas animals have evolved to use this magic for survival advantages (birds using it to enhance their flight for example) as well as the flow-through of magic helping them survive in general.

I was stuck on what to do when there's an area (such as the ocean, or a desert) which doesn't have that many trees. Is there life there at all? Or have they adapted in a certain way? I'm just not sure. Any ideas would be much appreciated!

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  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to be trees? There are plenty of underwater plants. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2023 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ You've explained how life in your world does better with magic, but not how it does any worse without. A priori, it seems like life in low-tree areas in your world should be just about the same as in ours... $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2023 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like you're describing water: sucked up through the roots, up the trunk, to the branches, then out the leaves. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jul 15, 2023 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ Since it's inspired by the water cycle, look to the ecologies of places where there aren't many trees. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jul 16, 2023 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ If trees send magic into the atmosphere wouldn't magic just be everywhere? Think of oxygen, trees also provide oxygen (not all of it), and their is plenty of oxygen in the desert and oceans. $\endgroup$
    – cybernard
    Jul 17, 2023 at 14:36

12 Answers 12

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Microclimates.

Microclimates are areas where the area climate is different from the larger, surrounding area. I once camped near a lake as a boy and was informed by a counselor that when weather reports indicate a chance of rain, they get rain virtually by default. The natural rise in humidity from the lake evaporating and collecting rainfall made the area more rainy.

In a similar sense, desert trees live off of water, whether from groundwater and oases, and oases naturally are wetter areas with more plant life, plants including trees. A lot of your creatures, though not all of them, will live in or around such relatively tree-heavy oases.

So in this case, the oasis would be a high-magic microclimate, with a higher magic level than the surrounding area. Even if the magic diffuses like oxygen through the atmosphere, being close to the source means exposure to more magic. But there are other examples of little microclimates, as desert snails demonstrate.

Option 2: Have the animals be part of the system.

If the trees produce magic, is that magic sequestered in parts of their body? Trees like other plants naturally take nutrients from the ground and create energy from sunlight in the form of sugar, and both sugar and nutrients can be found in their fruit, leaves, and so on.

And desert trees, like date palms and Joshua trees, do produce fruit. Fruit that will be eaten by native desert wildlife. It'd make sense if they incorporate those magical energies and ordinary nutrients into their bodies, because regular life does something similar through digestion. And maybe-just maybe-as animals feed on the tree's fruit or foliage, they become magical themselves and can help share the load of magic distribution.

I feel like that's not exactly what you're going for, but perhaps only desert creatures with a reliance on the tree for food and shelter, those especially tied to the magic trees, can become magic themselves? Or perhaps only certain desert animals in magic-poor environments have developed the capability to produce magic as trees do, a la leaf sheep, and are preyed upon by the others. Such animals would even help explain where the trees are getting magic, and would set up a magic cycle that-again-is not present outside deserts. Easy enough to explain when biological specialization-like that of the koala for forests-can make them unable to survive in different environments like the arid Outback.

Either way, I hope this helps you!

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh woww these are amazing ideas, I cant thank you enough!! The microclimate idea would definitely work, and also makes so much sense in this world! I actually really like the magical animal idea, but only for certain animals in desert-like conditions who have developed this like you suggested. Thank you again! Would any of these ideas be able to be applied to ocean life do you think? $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Jul 16, 2023 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Faeology Submerged forests act as reservoirs of magic. They're more common in your planet's distant past causing special magical microclimates scattered in the ocean. There are still non-tree plants (plankton) in other areas but dominant organisms there are totally different anyways (cf. underwater volcano anaerobic bacteria on Earth) $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2023 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ You could have an evolutionary branch of trees, one that lives in the ocean. Perhaps these 'sea trees,' due to buoyancy supporting their weight, can grow larger than regular trees? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Jul 18, 2023 at 1:11
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The ocean has its own distinct form of magic.

There could be any number of reasons tree magic feels like the dominant, or effectively only, form of magic in your story. Maybe humans don't know much about ocean magic and can't easily study it. In fact, the existence of ocean magic is theorized but hotly contested.

Maybe the magic itself doesn't seem as impressive as tree magic. The ocean is older than trees, so this form of magic is so deeply ingrained in sea life that it almost looks mundane unless you really know what to look for.

For real life inspiration, this is sort of like chemosynthesis, used by bacteria around hydrothermal vents instead of photosynthesis. Of course sunlight is a lot more abundant in the ocean than trees are, so ocean magic has a much bigger domain to cover.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could be kelp forests? $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Jul 17, 2023 at 9:06
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You get magic-desert dwellers. They have mastered the art of life on the bare minimum of magic, and thrive where others can not. They maximize the economy of every action they take.

In higher magic areas they lose out because the creatures adapted there are much readier to act (and expend energy).

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Animals that live where it is sparse would have evolved a means to store it or use it more efficiently. Many parallels with water and camels, birds regurgitating food for their chicks etc,.

Humans would find a cultural adaption to do so if there wasn't a natural one. eg, for water ride the camel across the desert or put it in a bottle. Squeeze it out of a root etc,.

Or just the store it in an artifact like a magical staff, wand, ring, or bag, or whatever you want.

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    $\begingroup$ Yess this is a really good idea! I was thinking maybe they consume some kind of seed? Because that is virtually the entire energy of the tree in one, while nowhere near as strong as the actual magic produced by trees themselves, it could be a good alternative! $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Jul 16, 2023 at 11:30
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Trees are adaptable. They have adapted to desert life (except where the sand is moving too fast and smothers them). So, for the desert, we have Joshua Trees, certain Mesquite trees, etc. which can live in low rain areas.

However, since rainfall is so low, the level of magic is low. Life which lives on magic runs at a slow pace. The Gila Monster walks slowly. Tarantula spiders move deliberately. Any life that wants to move fast has to soak up a lot of magic first and then spend that magic in a rush. They spend most of their time soaking up magic.

Using the North American deserts as an example, these deserts have mountains scattered throughout them. Nevada has the "Basin and Ranges" where flat desert like areas have mountain ranges splitting them. Arizona and New Mexico have the "Sky Islands" with very different environments from the surrounding deserts.

Humans come for a short time and then leave for places with more magic (for example, live in the "sky island" mountains and come to the desert rarely).

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  • $\begingroup$ Deserts could be exactly that - devoid of trees and magic, except where there are oases... $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Jul 17, 2023 at 9:08
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How does magic spread? If it diffuses through the atmosphere in the same way oxygen does, then magic concentrations around the globe should remain relatively consistent, with there still being more than enough magic in any place on Earth.

Deserts have no trees, yet there is still more than enough oxygen for people to breathe and survive, as oxygen spreads from areas with trees to areas without.

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  • $\begingroup$ Consider weather systems, though - something (even temperature) could affect the flow of this magic. $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Jul 17, 2023 at 9:10
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Areas with low magic-tree count could become a safe heaven for the poor non-magical creatures (which could purposefully cut down trees)

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In my fantasy world, there's 'magic' which is produced by trees; flowing from the roots up to the branches, which send out the magic into the atmosphere, allowing it to flow through all life.

That's just like the world that we live in now, except that you are limiting the production of oxygen (or it's counterpart in your fantasy world) to only trees.

[In the deserts and oceans] is there life there at all? Or have they adapted in a certain way?

Yes, there's life, but human life is usually nomadic in these places because of quite practical reasons. The beneficial product from the trees diffuses fairly evenly into the whole atmosphere (like oxygen does), allowing anyone all over the world to access it.

Could you elaborate on how would animal, creature etc life survive well in those tree-sparse areas?

If the tree-product can be diffused in the atmosphere, wind will take care of mixing it over the whole surface of the earth, including deserts and oceans. So anything living in the desert will only need to carry water and food supplies (or find ways to use what's available there already).

But most of the oxygen dissolved in Earths water is produced by non-tree life forms (plankton and algaes), so if your limit the beneficial product to only trees, any underwater creatures will need to be able to breath air and hold their breath like whales, or you may be able to invent some other way of dissolving the product in water. This could be by compressing air and letting it out underwater in bubbles, like in a bubble diffuser:

bubble diffuser aeration

Also, you'll need to adjust (increase) the product output of the trees, because actually, trees account for some of the oxygen in the air, but not near enough to supply the whole planet. Alternatively, you could adjust life forms to use less of the product. See this NatGeo article for some more information about rain forests and oxygen:

Because of this balance between oxygen production and consumption, modern ecosystems barely budge oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Instead, the oxygen we breathe is the legacy of phytoplankton in the ocean... (National Geographic)

Also see:

wikipeda: environmental oxygen

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes I'm aware of the oxygen comparison, I was almost going to explain it in that way ahah. Could you elaborate on how would animal, creature etc life survive well in those tree-sparse areas? I understand the nomadic human life part, that's a really good idea thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Jul 14, 2023 at 18:04
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Frame challenge: does life have to thrive in these environments?

Even in real life, deserts and oceans are inimical to most terrestrial life, and require special preparation to cross. It could be that in your world, ships and caravans carry bonsai trees to maintain a localized magic field. In case of seagoing vessels, these could be trained out of mangroves that can thrive on saline water. As for caravans crossing the desert, there are drought and heat resistant varieties of tree. For arctic deserts, evergreens could be used.

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Evolutionarily speaking, trees are late bloomers. If magic is an essential component for life, like oxygen, then either trees are not the only source of magic, or there was a Magic Catastrophe, akin to the Oxygen Catastrophe, that occurred when trees evolved.
In the former case, the oceans and deserts use there own "magitrophs". In the latter, then life in the oceans would be stratified by the solubility of magic in water, and the deserts by the solubility of magic in air. The deepest parts of either would still be weird "amagic" life, akin to anaerobic bacteria on Earth.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oooh this is really useful, thank you so much! So the deepest parts of the ocean, and the most sparse desert areas, would be 'amagic' places, where use of magic is impossible, and there is either no life at all, or life that's evolved to conserve magic and live without it. Or perhaps they become strange creatures that people are afraid of, creating areas in this world that humans daren't explore. $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Jul 16, 2023 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ It's more that they would be the ancestral forms that never needed magic, and indeed find magic toxic, just like anaerobic bacteria die when exposed to oxygen $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Jul 16, 2023 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ The Oxygen Catastrophe is a real thing, by the way. A mass extinction - most likely the first - caused by the evolution of photosynthesis and thus the appearance of abundant free oxygen $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Jul 16, 2023 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ Ohh I see, that makes a lot more sense! I really like this idea, and thank you for the info about the Oxygen Catastrophe, it's given me a few ideas. $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Jul 16, 2023 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ It all depends on the solubility of magic in air and water, which are up to you, although gasses are pretty much always soluble in each other and how much of a given gas there is at a given location has more to do with density, altitude and wind. A particularly high mountain range in the doldrums would be your best bet for surviving terrestrial amagic life, and the other answers re deserts would cover the rest of the land surface. As for the ocean, the deeper you go, the less magic there will be, no matter what. $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Jul 16, 2023 at 14:34
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Direct comparison to water

In our world, water is a resource necessary to life. In your world, magic is a resource necessary to life.

There is a lack of water in certain areas, such as deserts. Still, life finds a way to persist and adapt to this lacking resource in those areas. Then why not having the same thing for magic?

Let's keep the desert example. Plants, in particular, have adapted to the lack of water by using it and keeping it in more efficient ways. Some of them store what little water they find internally, and use it little by little. Others have developped wax-like surfaces that keep evaporation at bay. Hell, some plants even have roots so far down that they can reach underground sources.

We can transpose that to your magic. Your creatures or plants could have adapted by storing what little magic lingers internally, which they could then use later, either little by little, or in a burst. Or maybe they have developped a special sense, allowing them to detect higher concentrations of magic, thus letting them collect it in the most efficient way possible.

Those are only small examples I could think about. There are plenty of places in the world where living organisms have developped incredible ways to deal with the lack of a specific resource. I talked a lot about water, but there are many other resources that are lacking in certain areas. Food certainly comes to mind fast, but sunlight and oxygen are also valid.

Pick any of those you like, and transpose it to magic. Adding the comparison to the real thing will help with suspension of disbelief for your audience.

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Building on the other ideas above - if you are wanting mechanism that less global than the oxygen throughout your planet, but more global then instances of fruits/seeds needing to be carried, a potential analogue could be the mineral dust cycle : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_dust

It would allow for magical zones in the ocean and deserts that are downwind of large concentrations of your particular magical trees. The magic could be carried in the tree pollen (like conifers and cycads do) or wind dispersed seeds or combination. As the pollen/seeds settle the magic enters the oceans/deserts but only in constrained areas and the other areas would remain "amagic".

It would allow for corridors of high magic that magic using creatures could travel through/across low/no magic zones. Similar to bird migratory flyways: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flyway

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