Africa's Oldest Baobab Trees Dying At 'Shocking' Rate

Africa's Oldest Baobab Trees Dying At 'Shocking' Rate

"These large and monumental trees, which can live for 2,000 years or more, were dying one after another", says Adrian Patrut from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.

How these trees - found in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, some almost 2,500 years old - have suddenly died off seemed to be a mystery, but now the research team believes their demise is a visible sign of climate change.

"The deaths of the majority of the oldest and largest African baobabs over the past 12 years is an event of an unprecedented magnitude", the study authors said. Meanwhile, arguably the most famous baobab, the 1,400-year-old Chapman in Botswana, which bears the carved initials of explorer David Livingstone, saw all its six stems topple at once in January 2016.

Southern Africa, where the researchers cataloged the trees, has already been heating up faster than the global average, and researchers with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say the region will see some of the most intense temperatures hikes and reduced rainfall on the continent. "Various baobabs have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn, and a bus shelter", according to the park.

When they've lost their leaves, the trees appear to be upside-down, with their branches resembling roots that extend upward.

Temperatures have been rising in Africa over the last several decades, and many climate models suggest the continent is the most vulnerable to climate change.

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.

Updated, 11.55am, 12 June 2018: This article was updated to clarify figures with regard to the number of trees analysed by the research team. Since the study began, nine of the 13 oldest have died or partially perished. Their trunks are able to store massive volumes of water even in dry landscapes - on which animals and humans have relied - which is perhaps why the baobab is called the "tree of life".

The baobab known as Adansonia digitata L.is an icon of the African savannah.

"They can be burnt, or stripped of their bark, and they will just form new bark and carry on growing", it notes.

The objective of the study was to learn how the trees get so enormous.

"When they do die, they simply rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibers, which makes many people think that they don't die at all, but simply disappear", states the website.

"(They do refer to other baobab mortality but don't have real data on it)", Lovejoy continued. Then, two years ago, the tree began to split apart, and eventually, it completely fell to pieces. "There has also been a rapid increase in the apparently natural deaths of many other mature baobabs", authors say.

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