‘Shocking die-off of Africas oldest baobabs

  • ‘Shocking die-off of Africas oldest baobabs

‘Shocking die-off of Africas oldest baobabs

Eight of the 13 most historic, and five of the six largest, had either died or were dying.

Adrian Patrut, the lead author of the study and a chemist at Babes-Bolyai University of Romania says that the shocking demise of such a high number of tress is very unexpected. "It's statistically very unlikely", he says. Often seen towering over other plants around, baobabs are somewhat of a tourist attraction in the region. Of these, a group of around two dozen stood out for their exceptional size and, or, age. All the dead trees were located in the south of the continent - Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

These structures defy ring-counting, the traditional method of age-dating trees.

"We suspect this is associated with increased temperature and drought", Patrut told BBC News. The scientists considered baobabs a good challenge because others had said wood was hard to determine the age of.

The latest survey of ancient baobabs suggests climate change may already be affecting the continent's vegetation.

A similar fate befell the Platland tree in South Africa, which the authors call "probably the most promoted and visited African baobab".

The team does not believe that the deaths were caused by an epidemic, and suspect climate change in southern Africa.

It's still unclear what is driving the baobab deaths.

"But since there are relatively few millennial baobabs throughout southern Africa, it is impossible to make a statistical analysis". A common myth among the indigenous people living near southern Africa's Zambezi river holds that the earliest baobabs were vain about their massive size, and as punishment were ripped from the ground by the gods and replanted upside down, with their roots in the air. Their condition meant they could no longer support the tree's weight‚ he said.

If the researchers are correct, then African baobab trees are yet another precious item in the list of things humans ruined or killed. The fruits are said to contain more vitamin C than oranges and kiwis. "It's a unusual 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".

But baobab dating is a tricky, controversial process.

The Panke tree, which was oldest of the dying trees, lived for 2,500 years until its stems collapsed in 2010-2011, according to the study.

The problem is the tree's so-called "architecture". When young, baobab is single-stemmed. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses. The team dated more than 60 of the trees, revealing that-unlike most other trees-the baobab grows new trunks, instead of branches, which eventually create their giant, hollow interiors.