Something Is Killing Off Africa's Largest Baobab Trees

Africa's strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they're dying mysteriously

Of those nine, four were believed to be the largest African baobab trees in existence.

"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.

“Pretty much every baobab tree in Southern Africa is covered in the healed scars of past elephant attacks, which speaks to the trees unbelievable 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.

According to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the baobabs can live to be 3,000 years old and can grow to be so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its hollow trunk. Some of them dated back to the times of the ancient Greeks. Besides Tsumkwe the scientists have also been monitoring the baobab trees in Okahao, Anamulenge and Onesi in Omusati Region. An exact cause isn't known but an increasing number of scientists suspect climate change.

But if the Platland's demise was sudden and tragic, it wasn't unique: A new survey of baobab trees across several countries in southern Africa found that most of the two dozen oldest and biggest trees have died or significantly deteriorated in the last decade.

The study's lead author, Adrian Patrut, a chemist at Romania's Babeș-Bolyai University, told NPR that "such a disastrous decline is very unexpected". And now seven more of the 13 oldest trees, and five of the six biggest trees, have also died, the researchers report. 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.

Despite their hardy character, baobabs need water just like any other plant, and southern Africa has become hotter and dryer in recent years.

The eldest tree - the Panke in Zimbabwe - was found dead in 2010. They "suspect that the demise... may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions" specific to southern Africa.

"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", he says. Authors stressed that more research is needed to confirm that. "Climate change certainly seems like a possible (or likely) contributor".

"It's shocking and very sad to see them dying", Patrut said. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses.

The baobab known as Adansonia digitata an icon of the African savannah.

But Baum does not contest that large baobabs are dying - something he calls “heartbreaking.”.



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