Saturday, 23 June, 2018

Africa's Oldest Baobab Trees Dying At 'Shocking' Rate

0611-Tree2 Africa's strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they're dying mysteriously
Anna Jefferson | 13 June, 2018, 22:11

How these trees - found in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, some almost 2,500 years old - have suddenly died off seemed to be a mystery, but now the research team believes their demise is a visible sign of climate change.

An global team of researchers found that nine of the 13 oldest African baobabs (Adansonia digitata)-all more than 1,000 years old-and five of the six largest individuals have partially or completely died in the last 12 years.

The baobab can live for 3,000 years, according to South Africa's Kruger National Park. And it's no fluke, he adds.

"Statistically, it is practically impossible that such a high number of large old baobabs die in such a short time frame due to natural causes", they said. The stories note baobobs' iconic place in African history. The region is home to the oldest and largest African baobabs. In 2010, its branches started to fall off; then its multiple stems began to split and topple over.

“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.

They suspect the demise may be linked to climate change, although they have no direct evidence of this.

In Namibia one of the baobabs that died had the largest circumference of all 60 baobab trees found in Africa.

While the cause of their mortalities is still unclear, climate change is suspected.

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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.

The study in the journal Nature Plants is the result of a survey conducted by co-author Adrian Patrut of Romania's Babes-Bolyai University.

Is Climate Change To Blame?

Patrut believes the trees are under pressure by rising temperatures and unforgiving droughts.

Something similar, a new scientific study suggests, is happening to the oldest and largest baobabs across the world in “an event of an unprecedented magnitude.”. Authors stressed that more research is needed to confirm that. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses.

Patrut said the dead trunks were only 40% water‚ instead of the 75-80% they should have been.

"This a unique characteristic of the African baobab and all the baobab trees", said Patrut, who has dated different parts of the trees using radiocarbon dating methods.

"The decline and death of so many large baobabs in recent years is so tragic", Baum says.

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