In Africa die the oldest baobabs: environmentalists blame global warming

13 June, 2018, 22:09 | Author: Kara Nash
  • Africa's strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they're dying mysteriously

Global scientists have discovered that most of the oldest and largest African baobab trees have died over the past 12 years.

To investigate how baobabs - aka the 'tree of life', owing to its ability to retain water - can grow to such impressive sizes, Patrut and his team began researching them in 2005, analysing over 60 of the largest and potentially oldest specimens in Africa.

All of the dead or dying baobabs detailed in the latest study are located in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, and all are between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old.

"It is very surprising to visit monumental baobabs, with ages greater than a thousand to two thousand years, which seem to be in a good state of health, and to find them after several years fallen to the ground and dead", says study co-author Adrian Patrut of Romania's Babes-Bolyai University.

As per the study, five out of the six oldest and largest trees either passed away or the oldest parts in their system collapsed. "I do think climate is a likely culprit but they don't actually present any evidence of how climate is changing where these ancient trees occur". In the past, they have been used as a prison, a barn and a bus shelter, according to the website of Kruger National Park in South Africa. They are saying further research is needed "to support or refute this supposition".


"Pretty much every baobab tree in Southern Africa is covered in the healed scars of past elephant attacks, which speaks to the trees' awesome fix ability", said David Baum, a University of Wisconsin botanist who is familiar with the new study and contributed to a recent Biodiversity International publication cataloguing the trees' attributes, in an email. Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, the odd trees look like they were drawn by Dr. Seuss, with wide, fat, trunks capped by sparse branches covered in green leaves.

Updated, 11.55am, 12 June 2018: This article was updated to clarify figures with regard to the number of trees analysed by the research team.

The baobab tree is native to the African savannah.

The goal of the study was to learn how the trees get so enormous. Even if one were to strip or burn bark from the tree, it would just form more and continue to grow. In some cases all the stems died suddenly. Often seen towering over other plants around, baobabs are somewhat of a tourist attraction in the region. But in 2016, its stems began to crack and collapse, one by one. That includes Panke, a sacred baobab in Zimbabwe that was estimated to be about 2,450 years old, with an 82-foot-wide trunk and a height of 51 feet.

"These deaths were not caused by an epidemic and there has also been a rapid increase in the apparently natural deaths of many other mature baobabs‚" the researchers said.

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