One by one, Africa's oldest baobab trees are dying

Madagascar. Some of the oldest baobob trees in existence are rapidly dying

Madagascar. Some of the oldest baobob trees in existence are rapidly dying

“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.

Patrut and his team first noticed the die-off of the trees during a 2005 research study focused on gauging their ages and studying their architectures. But during their study period, the researchers discovered that the oldest and largest had died. Tropical trees in the Costa Rican cloud forest also seem to be dying from rising temperatures. They were surprised that most of the oldest and biggest died within those 12 years. Besides Tsumkwe the scientists have also been monitoring the baobab trees in Okahao, Anamulenge and Onesi in Omusati Region.

A baobab tree is surrounded by reeds and stagnant water in an area outside the "Avenue of the Baobabs", a famous natural reserve in western Madagascar, near Morondava, in 2011. The researchers don't have enough data to point out a culprit, but they believe it's climate change.

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

The new research, by Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and an worldwide group of colleagues, finds that in the past 12 years, "9 of the 13 oldest and 5 of the 6 largest individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died".

"When around 70 percent of your 1,500- to 2,000-year-old trees died within 12 years, it certainly is not normal", Erika Wise, a geographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the work, tells The Atlantic.

"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", study co-author and Babeș-Bolyai University chemist Adrian Patrut told NPR.

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. All the dead trees were located in the south of the continent - Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

Is Climate Change To Blame?

The baobab tree, sometimes called the “Tree of Life, ” has an unforgettable appearance.

Describing his reaction to the findings, Patrut added: "It's shocking and very sad to see them dying".

Whatever the reason is, the death of these trees will have a huge impact in the southern African landscape.

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".

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

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