Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Some of Africa's oldest and biggest baobob trees have died

Some of Africa's oldest and biggest baobob trees have died

The contention is that the largest baobabs weave together multiple tree stems around a small "false cavity", and this is what gives them their unique structure.

None of the trees showed obvious signs of infection, the researchers found, and the pattern of deaths did not fit what would be expected had the die-off been caused by a contagious disease. But during their study period, the researchers discovered that the oldest and largest had died.

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. They were surprised that most of the oldest and biggest died within those 12 years. The Times, Mail Online and New Scientist also have the story.

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.

Scientists believe that this phenomenon is not associated with any epidemic, and global climate change and in particular warming on the African contintent, but scientifically proven facts in favor of this version yet.

"We report that nine of the 13 oldest ... individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years", the scientists wrote in the journal Nature Plants about this "event of an unprecedented magnitude". At 30.2 metres the tree, named Holboom, also had one of the tallest heights and is dated to be about 1,700 years old.

A study published Monday found eight of the 13 oldest trees in Africa have died over the past decade, and the authors suggest climate change may affect the ability of the baobab to survive.

Study leader Adrian Patrut‚ of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania‚ said: "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages".

“(They do refer to other baobab mortality but dont 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. The Sunland baobab in South Africa's Limpopo Province, which is so large it houses a cocktail bar, suddenly began splitting apart in 2016 and may not last much longer.

"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", he says. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses. Authors stressed that more research is needed to confirm that.

In the mythology of many African peoples, the baobab tree represents life, fertility and appears in heraldic coats of arms of some countries. "I do think climate is a likely culprit but they don't actually present any evidence of how climate is changing where these ancient trees occur".

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

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