Monday, 24 September, 2018


Why are Africa’s baobab trees dying?

Two yellow baobab pods hanging from a leafy branch Why are Africa’s baobab trees dying?
Patty Aguilar | 13 June, 2018, 23:59

Using radiocarbon-dating, in which researchers date carbon atoms inside the tree stem, they found that baobabs' unique architecture is responsible for their longevity. According to Patrut, it was around 2,500 years old - meaning that it sprouted a few years after the assassination of Julius Caesar. In the last dozen years, four of the largest 13 trees studied have died, suddenly rotting and splitting apart. But during their study period, the researchers discovered that the oldest and largest had died.

The giant trees have always been revered as a way to survive drought. "The die-off has other immediate causes, like insects, but a 500-year-old tree has experienced a lot of insect outbreaks and lived through them".

Baobab trees also offer shelter for wildlife.

The baobab is "often referred to as the "tree of life" for its ability to produce nutrient-rich fruit even during Africa's harsh dry season", says CNN, and its longevity is legendary.

The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and some as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated.

"Statistically, it is practically impossible that such a high number of large old baobabs [could] die in such a short time frame due to natural causes", Patrut told National Geographic. 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.

Speaking of the team's findings, Dr Adrian Patrut of Babeş-Bolyai University in Romania said: "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". But in 2016, its stems began to crack and collapse, one by one.

Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in South Africa‚ Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ Botswana‚ and Zambia have abruptly died in the past decade‚ say a team of global researchers. Over its lifetime, a baobab's roots send up several more stems in a ring. "Climate change certainly seems like a possible (or likely) contributor".

Patrut believes the trees are under pressure by rising temperatures and unforgiving droughts. But more evidence is needed, he says, to strengthen the link between climate change and the baobab deaths. The common theory, Baum said, is that as the tree slowly grows around these scars, they can become large hollows.

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".

The African baobab is the biggest and longest-living angiosperm tree. "It's shocking and very sad to see them dying".

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