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Namibia's Giant Baobab Trees Are Dying, Climate Change Blamed

13 June 2018, 10:14 | Randall Craig

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

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Baobab trees have many stems and trunks, often of different ages.

“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. According to Science magazine, researchers found that as the trees get older things get weird. They can grow to be thousands of years old, and develop hollows inside so large that one massive baobab in South Africa had a bar inside it. Tropical trees in the Costa Rican cloud forest also seem to be dying from rising temperatures.

"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", they said.

Something similar, a new scientific study suggests, is happening to the oldest and largest baobabs across the world in "an event of an unprecedented magnitude".

The scientists said the spate of deaths, described in the journal Nature Plants, might be the result of a changing climate but that research needs to be done to determine that.

But Patruts study, which surveys baobabs much more widely, contends that for the oldest trees in particular, the deaths “were not caused by an epidemic.”.

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.




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.

Adrian Patrut, a co-author of the study and an academic at the 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".

Despite their hardy character, baobabs need water just like any other plant, and southern Africa has become hotter and dryer in recent years.

Some of the largest are more than 20m wide - one specimen in South Africa known as the Platland housed a bar until it began to rot and split apart in 2016. 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.

The iconic trees can reach almost 2,000 years of age. "It is hard to come up with a culprit other than climate change".

In the mythology of many African peoples, the baobab tree represents life, fertility and appears in heraldic coats of arms of some countries.

Patrut said the dead trunks were only 40% water‚ instead of the 75% to 80% they should have been.



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