Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Oldest And Largest Baobab Trees In Africa Are Dying From Climate Change

Oldest And Largest Baobab Trees In Africa Are Dying From Climate Change

Baobab trees have been nicknamed the "tree of life", perhaps because their trunks and branches can store large volumes of water in a dry and often unforgiving landscape -- stores that humans and animals have relied on.

“Something obviously is going on in nearly selectively affecting the largest and oldest, ” Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist and Amazon rain forest expert at George Mason University, wrote in an email comment on the study.

Despite these trees having many stems and trunks of different ages, the stems of many had died suddenly.

"The deaths of the majority of the oldest and largest African baobabs over the past 12 years is an event of an unprecedented magnitude", the scientists wrote.

That's a tragic loss, considering the history and culture attached to these trees - which are also a key food source for people. Four of the trees they studied died completely‚ meaning all their stems toppled together.

A recent study suggests climate change is contributing to the death's of Africa's massive baobab trees.

Scientists are wondering what's behind the mysterious die-off - and are looking at climate change as a likely culprit.

Despite typical lifespans of hundreds or even thousands of years, Africa's baobab trees are dying off rapidly, according to a new study by ecologists.

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The new research, by Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and an worldwide group of colleagues, finds that in the past 12 years, “9 of the 13 oldest and 5 of the 6 largest individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died.”.

Study leader Adrian Patrut‚ from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania‚ said: "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages".

Some of the largest are more than 20m wide - one specimen in South Africa known as the Platland housed a bar until it began to rot and split apart in 2016.

However the report says researchers have not linked disease or some other similar phenomena to the baobab's decline.

The iconic trees can reach almost 2,000 years of age. Baobobs grow in unusual ways, often with hollows, making it hard to gauge precise ages, but the research team says the trees in the survey range in age from 1,000 to 2,500 years, reports NPR.

"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", he says. The common theory, Baum said, is that as the tree slowly grows around these scars, they can become large hollows.

The oldest tree in Patrut's survey was one in Zimbabwe called Panke, which died in 2011.

According to a report in the journal Nature Plants, no one has been able to figure out the reason behind the falling of these enormous trees, but scientists suspect climate change to be the culprit.

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