Monday, 25 June, 2018

Climate change is likely killing ancient baobab trees

Two yellow baobab pods hanging from a leafy branch Africa's strangest trees are stranger than thought—and they're dying mysteriously
Samantha Long | 13 June, 2018, 22:10

The contention is that the largest baobabs weave together multiple tree stems around a small "false cavity", and this is what gives them their unique structure.

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

The baobab is the longest-living, most enormous flowering tree in existence, according to the study.

For centuries - millennia even - they've towered over the savannah like giants from another world, but their long, nearly immortal watch is at last beginning to fade.

"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".

"Over time, single-stemmed individuals become multi-stemmed, owing to the baobabs' ability to periodically produce new stems, in much the same way other tree species produce branches".

The baobab tree, commonly referred to as the "tree of life", is found naturally in arid regions.

Scientists are wondering what's behind the mysterious die-off - and are looking at climate change as a likely culprit.

"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages", Adrian Patrut of Babe-Bolyai University in Romania, one of the study's co-authors, told AFP.

Young girl temporarily paralyzed by tick bite, mom says
Paralysis sets in slowly, starting in the legs and spreading into upper body, stopping your breathing if left unchecked. If nothing is done, the toxin ultimately makes it impossible for a person to breathe, resulting in respiratory failure.

How these trees - found in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, some almost 2,500 years old - have suddenly died off seemed to be a mystery, but now the research team believes their demise is a visible sign of climate change. They are all between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old.

Beginning in Spring 2016, the tree began to split apart.

The oldest tree by far, of which all the stems collapsed in 2010/11, is the Panke tree in Zimbabwe, estimated to have existed for 2,500 years. 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".

Patrut believes the trees are under pressure by rising temperatures and unforgiving droughts.

The latest survey of ancient baobabs suggests climate change may already be affecting the continent's vegetation.

"We felt as if we were the ones outliving the baobabs, instead of them outliving many generations of humans". They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses.

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

But Baum does not contest that large baobabs are dying - something he calls “heartbreaking.”. "It's a odd 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".

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