‘Shocking die-off of Africas oldest baobabs

Two yellow baobab pods hanging from a leafy branch

The majority of the oldest and largest baobab trees were found in Southern Africa.

Overall, five of the six largest baobabs either died or their oldest parts significantly deteriorated.

Of the ten trees listed by the study authors, four died completely, meaning all their multiple stems toppled and died together. The fallen include Homasi, also known as Grootboom, a giant tree in Namibia. "The die-off has other immediate causes, like insects, but a 500-year-old tree has experienced a lot of insect outbreaks and lived through them". But on a baobab, new wood grows both on the outside and into the hollows, meaning that a straight line from the center of the tree can pass both forward and backward in time - or even skip decades altogether if they rotted out or were eaten.

The baobab tree is a natural icon of the African savannah.

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.

"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages", the study's co-author, Adrian Patrut, told The Guardian.

"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.

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"(They do refer to other baobab mortality but don't have real data on it)", Lovejoy continued. It first began to split apart in the spring of 2016. This included the Platland baobab and a few trees that appeared, by Patrut's calculations, to be more than 2,000 years old.

The baobab can live for 3,000 years, according to South Africa's Kruger National Park.

Patrut believes the trees are under pressure by rising temperatures and unforgiving droughts. Baobabs are particularly reliant on the annual rainy season and need to sip up about 70 to 80 percent of their volume in water to stay upright. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses. "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".

Whatever the reason is, the death of these trees will have a huge impact in the southern African landscape.

"The decline and death of so many large baobabs in recent years is so tragic", Baum says.

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.

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