The oldest BAOBABS in Africa disappear ominously

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The vast majority of Africa’s oldest baobabs are dying. The situation of these ancient trees has worsened over the last 15 years, probably because of climate change. A disappearance described as  “of an unprecedented scale”.

The vast majority of the oldest baobabs in Africa have been dying for the past ten years, alerting researchers on Monday that climate change is a possible cause of this disappearance:  “It is shocking and spectacular to witness during our life the disappearance of so many millennia old trees ,  explains Adrian Patrut of Babeş-Bolyai University in Romania, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Plants . “During the second half of the XIXth century, the great baobab trees of southern Africa began to die, but since 10/15 years their disappearance has increased rapidly due to high temperatures and drought “continues the researcher.

Since 10/15 years, their disappearance has rapidly increased because of the very high temperatures and the drought

Aged from 1,100 to 2,500 years ago and tutelage of the sky, the baobabs and their massive trunk crowned with roots-like branches, are one of the most emblematic silhouettes of arid savannas, spotted for miles around. But, in the past 12 years, nine of the thirteen older baobabs are partially or totally dead, according to the study.

Among the victims, three symbolic monsters: Panke, native of Zimbabwe, the oldest baobab with 2,450 years on the clock, the Platland tree of South Africa , one of the largest in the world, with a trunk of more than 10 meters in diameter and the famous Chapman baobab of Botswana, on which Livingstone engraved his initials, classified national monument.

The researchers discovered this  “unprecedented scale” situation almost by chance: they studied these trees to unlock the secret of their incredible measurements. For this, between 2005 and 2017, Adrian Patrut and his colleagues studied all the largest (and therefore usually the oldest) baobabs in Africa, more than 60 in all.

Baobabs die in a region heavily affected by global warming

Traveling through Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia, they collected samples from different parts of the trees. Fragments of which they then defined the age using carbon dating .

“The cavity of an old baobab Zimbabwe is so great that 40 people can shelter there,” says the website Internet Kruger National Park in South Africa. They could be used as a store, as a prison or simply as a bus stop. They have also long been used to find their way through explorers or travelers.

“Baobabs periodically produce new trunks, as other species produce branches,” according to the study. These stems or trunks, often of different ages, then merge together. When too many stems die, the tree collapses. “Before we started our research, we had been informed of the collapse of the baobab grootboom in Namibia but we thought it was an isolated event ,  says Adrian Patrut.

“These deaths were not caused by an epidemic, “ say the authors, who suggest that climate change could affect the baobab’s ability to survive in its habitat even though  “further research will be needed to support or refute this hypothesis” . But  “the area in which the millennia baobab trees are dead is one of those where warming is the fastest in Africa,” notes Adrian Patrut.

  • Most of the oldest baobabs in Africa are dying.
  • These huge trees are emblematic of arid savannas.
  • Climate change is probably responsible for their disappearance, which has accelerated over the last fifteen years.

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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