Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

Africa’s Ancient Baobab Trees Are Mysteriously Dying

Row of baobab trees in Madagascar Row of baobab trees in Madagascar
Celia Hoffman | 13 June, 2018, 22:12

Baobab trees commonly form multiple stems, and though the walls of these stems, or trunks, can hold large amounts of water, numerous stems are hollow. And baobab specialist Sarah Venter of the University of Witwatersrand says if drought was the problem, it would affect all baobabs, not just the largest and oldest. But his finding about the deaths came as no surprise: Anecdotal evidence of a die-off was already spreading in the baobab research community.

"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.

Thats a tragic loss, considering the history and culture attached to these trees - which are also a key food source for people.

"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".

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". It is found naturally in Africa's savannah region, and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced. An exact cause isn't known but an increasing number of scientists suspect climate change.

Some of the largest trees have died over the last 12 years.

The report in the journal, Nature Plants, said that its research had found that nine of the 13 oldest, and five of the six largest individual trees studied, had died in the past 12 years.

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"(They do refer to other baobab mortality but don't have real data on it)", Lovejoy continued.

The oldest tree by far, of which all the stems collapsed in 2010/11, was the Panke tree in Zimbabwe, estimated to have existed for 2,500 years.

Some of the largest are more than 20m wide - one specimen in South Africa known as the Platland housed a bar until it began to rot and split apart in 2016. "It is hard to come up with a culprit other than climate change".

Diane Mayne, a baobab ecologist who worked with Patrut in South Africa, called his theory a "fantasy" that lacks "a single reference on wood, anatomy, allometry or biomechanics or the hollowing process - despite recent research in these fields".

Whatever the cause, these mysterious deaths will have a big impact on the southern African landscape.

According to a report in the journal Nature Plants, no one has been able to figure out the reason behind the falling of these big trees, but scientists suspect climate change to be the culprit.

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

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