Scientists shocked by mysterious deaths of ancient trees

Scientists shocked by mysterious deaths of ancient trees

Scientists shocked by mysterious deaths of ancient trees

Baobab trees have been nicknamed the "tree of life", perhaps because their trunks and branches can store large volumes of water in a dry and often unforgiving landscape -- stores that humans and animals have relied on.

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

“Pretty much every baobab tree in Southern Africa is covered in the healed scars of past elephant attacks, which speaks to the trees awesome fix ability, ” said David Baum, a University of Wisconsin botanist who is familiar with the new study and contributed to a recent Biodiversity International publication cataloguing the trees attributes, in an email.

"The deaths of the majority of the oldest and largest African baobabs over the past 12 years is an event of an unprecedented magnitude", the study authors said.

That's a tragic loss, considering the history and culture attached to these trees - which are also a key food source for people. The oldest living members of the species date back to the time of the ancient Greeks.

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Baobab trees also offer shelter for wildlife.

Southern Africa - including countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, where the trees catalogued by Patrut were found - is already warming faster than the global average. An exact cause isn't known but an increasing number of scientists suspect climate change.

Researchers taking a survey of some of the world's oldest and funkiest trees have bad news to report: Africa's legendary baobobs are dying.

"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages", chemist Adrian Patrut from the Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania explained to The Guardian.

“(They do refer to other baobab mortality but dont have real data on it),” Lovejoy continued. But in 2016, its stems began to crack and collapse, one by one.

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Trees usually have their age counted by tree-ring dating (dendrochronology), but Patrut says the unusual biology of baobabs prevents this. That includes Panke, a sacred baobab in Zimbabwe that was estimated to be about 2,450 years old, with an 82-foot-wide trunk and a height of 51 feet. "It is hard to come up with a culprit other than climate change". The common theory, Baum said, is that as the tree slowly grows around these scars, they can become large hollows.

It is not entirely clear why the trees have abruptly died, but researchers say that climate change is the likely cause, even if only in part.

Diane Mayne, a baobab ecologist who worked with Patrut in South Africa, called his theory a "fantasy" that lacks "a single reference on wood, anatomy, allometry or biomechanics or the hollowing process - despite recent research in these fields".

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

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