Climate Change Likely Killing Africa's Oldest Baobabs

13 June, 2018, 22:14 | Author: Sherman Richardson
  • Eric Lafforgue  Art in All of Us via Getty Images            
                    Baobab trees have a wide range of uses

"The deaths of the majority of the oldest and largest African baobabs is an event of an unprecedented magnitude", the authors wrote.

"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.

The tree's root, bark, fruit and seeds all are a source of food to many animals, as per the researchers.

They made the discovery by chance during a study of the biology that enables the baobab to grow so large.

For centuries - millennia even - they've towered over the savannah like giants from another world, but their long, nearly immortal watch is at last beginning to fade. While baobabs typically begin growing as single-stemmed trees, they produce new ones over time, developing increasingly complex structures.

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

Scientists are wondering what's behind the mysterious die-off - and are looking at climate change as a likely culprit. Because they don't put down a growth ring every year like other trees, he collected samples from the trees, using radio-carbon dating to determine their age, finding that many of them were over 2,000 years old, though some researchers think his dating techniques might be conservative, shaving 1,000 years off their age.

This represents a "shocking and dramatic" decline, says the study's co-author, Adrian Patrut of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania. What they found, among other things, was that eight of the 13 oldest African baobab trees have either died or had their oldest stems die.

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It's possible that the deaths are part of a natural cycle, though it's hard to say because baobabs decay rapidly and don't leave behind any evidence of previous die-offs. It first began to split apart in the spring of 2016. Some of these trees are more than 2000 years old.

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

Scientists say the tree can live up to 3,000 years old.

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

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

"We suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular". They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses. However, they call for more research.

A lot of scientists are increasingly getting concerned over the health of African baobab trees in Africa.

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