A strange situation is affecting a species of trees in Africa. It turns out that most of the oldest baobabs on the continent have been dying for a decade, according to a group of researchers, who warned that the cause could be climate change.
“It is unfortunate and spectacular to attend throughout our lives to a disappearance of so many trees of millenarian ages,” explained Adrian Patrut, of the Babes-Bolyai University of Romania and co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Plants.
“In the course of the second half of the nineteenth century, the great baobabs of southern Africa began to die, but for 10-15 years, their disappearance increased rapidly due to very high temperatures and drought,” said the researcher.
The baobab, with a massive trunk topped by branches that look like roots, and with ages between 1,100 and 2,500 years, is one of the most emblematic silhouettes of the arid savannas, recognizable several miles away.
However, over the past 12 years, nine of the 13 oldest specimens died totally or partially, according to the study.
Among these, three symbolic trees: Panke, in Zimbabwe, the oldest baobab aged 2,450 years; the Platland tree of South Africa, one of the largest in the world with a trunk more than 33 feet in diameter; and the famous Baobab Chapman of Botswana, in which Dr. David Livingstone recorded his initials and which is considered a national monument.
“These deaths were not caused by an epidemic,” the authors say, suggesting that climate change could affect the baobab’s ability to survive, although – they warn – “other research will be necessary to support or reject this hypothesis.”