Ancient baobabs are dying and climate change is the chief suspect

Ancient baobabs are dying and climate change is the chief suspect

Nine of the 13 oldest African baobab trees, which range in age from 1,100- to 2,500 years, have suddenly died and some researchers are blaming climate change.

Between 2005 and 2017‚ the researchers dated "practically all known very large and potentially old" African baobabs - more than 60 in total.

"We report that nine of the 13 oldest and five of the six largest individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died over the past 12 years", wrote the worldwide team of researchers.

After studying data on girth‚ height‚ wood volume and age‚ they noted the unexpected and intriguing fact that most of the oldest and biggest trees had died during the study period.

Study leader Adrian Patrut‚ of 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".

Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental scientist at George Mason University, told the Washington Post: "I do think climate is a likely culprit, but they don't actually present any evidence of how climate is changing where these ancient trees occur". Instead, the researchers believe climate-change-fueled drought has weakened the trees. When they are not flowering, these iconic trees' branches resemble roots reaching into the sky.

"When around 70 percent of your 1,500- to 2,000-year-old trees died within 12 years, it certainly is not normal", Erika Wise, a geographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the work, tells The Atlantic. They are saying further research is needed "to support or refute this supposition".

None of the trees showed obvious signs of infection, the researchers found, and the pattern of deaths did not fit what would be expected had the die-off been caused by a contagious disease.

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. It stores huge quantities of water and grows fruit edible for both humans and animals.

The southern African countries where the trees died are warming faster than the global average.

Its leaves, meanwhile, can be boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines.

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

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

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. Some of these trees are more than 2000 years old. "There has also been a rapid increase in the apparently natural deaths of many other mature baobabs", authors say.