Health Care

Why Are Some of Africa's Biggest Baobab Trees Dying Off?

Why Are Some of Africa's Biggest Baobab Trees Dying Off?”

An icon of the African bush, the baobab's swollen trunk and gnarled branches are a familiar sight in the savannahs of southern, east and west Africa. In 2011, the oldest known specimen that sprouted about 2450 years ago-died and toppled over. Since the study began, nine of the 13 oldest have died or partially perished.

"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 study authors said.

Until late previous year, the Platland tree in South Africa, also known as Sunland, was their queen.

"It's a odd feeling, because these are trees which may live for 2,000 years or more, and we see that they're dying one after another during our lifetime". The Times, Mail Online and New Scientist also have the story.

Baobabs, also referred to as the dead-rat trees because of the fruits which grows on them, are known to the most different plant species in the world. The authors believe that climate change is the culprit.

The largest and oldest Baobab trees in Africa, if not already dead, are now dying.

The trees - located in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia - have died completely, or partly, according to the study.

"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", Adrian Patrut, a researcher at Babes-Bolyai University, told National Geographic. "It's a odd feeling, because these are trees which may live for 2,000 years or more, and we see that they're dying one after another during our lifetime".

The latest survey of ancient baobabs suggests climate change may already be affecting the continent's vegetation.

While the reasons behind the trees' sudden and apparently concurrent difficulties remains unclear, the researchers said they suspect the demise "may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular". Baobabs are particularly reliant on the annual rainy season and need to sip up about 70 to 80 percent of their volume in water to stay upright.

Trees usually have their age counted by tree-ring dating (dendrochronology), but Patrut says the unusual biology of baobabs prevents this. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses.

Whatever the cause, these mysterious deaths will have a big impact on the southern African landscape, as in addition to shade, the tree's bark, roots, seeds, and fruit are key food sources for many animals.

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



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