Scientists Discover Big Problem With Ancient Trees

Africa's strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they're dying mysteriously

They do wonder if the deaths might be connected to climate change, but there is no concrete evidence of this. By using radiocarbon dating, it is known that some live over 2,000 years.

Since 2005, an worldwide team of researchers has investigated and dated practically all known very large and potentially very old African baobabs on the continent, about 60 trees in total. Nadia Drake at National Geographic reports that Patrut began studying baobabs in 2000, mainly focusing on Adansonia digitata, a very large species of baobab found primarily in southern Africa.

Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in SA, Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ Botswana and Zambia have died abruptly in the past decade‚ says a team of global researchers. "Statistically, it is practically impossible that such a high number of large old baobabs die in such a short time frame due to natural causes".

While investigating those complex architectures, the team found these woody structures were rapidly becoming condemned: eight of the 13 oldest baobabs - and five of the six largest - either died since 2005, or had begun internal collapse.

The researchers don't know for sure, but they describe the spate of high-profile deaths - the end of trees so grand they each had their own names - is an event of "unprecedented magnitude" that likely points to climate change. "However, further research is necessary to support or refute this".

Researchers taking a survey of some of the world's oldest and funkiest trees have bad news to report: Africa's legendary baobobs are dying.


To conduct the study, researchers combed books, articles, and the internet and asked local Africans in order to locate the biggest baobabs.

The iconic tree can live to be 3,000 years old, according to the website of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a natural baobab habitat. The tree started to split in 2016 and collapsed completely the following year. It serves as a massive store of water and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans.

A baobab tree with an opening through which one can climb inside. Four of the trees they studied died completely‚ meaning all their stems toppled together.

Its leaves are boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines, while the bark is pounded and woven into rope, baskets, cloth, and waterproof hats. Michael Wingfield, a plant pathologist at the University of Pretoria, tells Sarah Wild at Nature that the sample size is very small and the study does not fully rule out a disease afflicting older trees. Scientists are finding that these trees are dying in rapid numbers. The biggest‚ Holboom‚ was from Namibia.

His study, published in the journal Nature Plants, suggests "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".

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