Deaths of African baobab trees linked to climate change

Row of baobab trees in Madagascar

Row of baobab trees in Madagascar

It is a strange-looking plant, with branches resembling gnarled roots reaching for the sky, giving it an upside-down look.

The African baobab, the largest and longest-living tree among all angiosperm (flowering) plants, is in the midst of a deadly crisis, with new research finding several of these ancient trees have recently died or are in the process of internal collapse.

"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages", said the study's co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.

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

"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 scientists wrote.

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

But something unusual happened during the course of his research.

Of the ten trees listed by the study authors, four died completely, meaning all their multiple stems toppled and died together.

That's a tragic loss, considering the history and culture attached to these trees - which are also a key food source for people. It first began to split apart in the spring of 2016.

"Such a disastrous decline is very unexpected", Patrut tells Tim McDonnell at NPR. "It's statistically very unlikely", he says.

Which means there must be a cause for the die-off.

The Sunland Baobab, also known as the Platland tree, was the continent's biggest baobab, standing more than 60 feet high and more than 100 feet across.

Climate change to be blamed for Namibia's Giant Baobab Trees Are Dying.

Temperature increases and reduced rainfall have been recorded across southern Africa in the last decade.

Baobab trees act as water reservoirs. So the scientists instead used accelerator mass spectrometry to perform radiocarbon dating on samples from the largest, oldest trees in southern Africa. "It is hard to come up with a culprit other than climate change". It is found naturally in Africa's savannah region and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced. Wise points out that baobabs are not the only trees suffering, and that drought and temperature changes are making trees and forests vulnerable to problems around the world.

"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".

"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. Whatever the case, it's sad to see these trees go - especially the ones that were serving cocktails.

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