Namibia’s giant baobab trees are dying, climate change blamed

Maricruz Casares
Junio 13, 2018

According to a paper published in the Nature Plants journal, the researchers had investigated and dated "practically all known very large and potentially old" baobabs between 2005 and 2017, only to then unexpectedly note that nearly all of the very oldest and largest trees had died during that period.

Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in SA, Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ Botswana and Zambia have died abruptly in the past decade‚ says a team of global researchers. 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.

But if the Platland's demise was sudden and tragic, it wasn't unique: A new survey of baobab trees across several countries in southern Africa found that most of the two dozen oldest and biggest trees have died or significantly deteriorated in the last decade.

"We suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular", said the team, led by Dr Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Again, it's hard to determine exactly what caused their demise, but the researchers strongly suspect the deaths are associated at least partly "with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular". In the past, they have been used as a prison, a barn and a bus shelter, according to the website of Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Trees usually have their age counted by tree-ring dating (dendrochronology), but Patrut says the unusual biology of baobabs prevents this. "However, further research is necessary to support or refute this supposition", the authors wrote. Instead, the researchers believe climate-change-fueled drought has weakened the trees. Marked by wide, cylindrical trunks and gnarled branches, they look somewhat like trees that have been turned upside-down, with the labyrinthine roots sticking up above and the branches shoved underground.

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.

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

The baobab is the longest-living, most enormous flowering tree in existence, according to the study. Even if one were to strip or burn bark from the tree, it would just form more and continue to grow.

The goal of the study was to learn how the trees get so enormous. In some cases all the stems died suddenly.

The iconic trees can reach almost 2,000 years of age. Another famous baobab, the Chapman tree in Botswana, collapsed in 2016.

Other than the oldest and biggest, the research team observed that many other mature baobabs had died.

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