The African baobab trees are dying, or perhaps dead already, a new research reveals. The trees, which are the oldest and biggest angiosperm trees in the world, are aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years.
Occurring throughout the past decade, the trees' demise could be the result of climate change, the researchers say, but further study is needed to confirm their hypothesis.
Their findings were published in the Nature Plants journal on June 11.
African Baobab Trees Are Dying
The baobab tree is a natural icon of the African savannah. 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. Their trunks are able to store massive volumes of water even in dry landscapes — on which animals and humans have relied — which is perhaps why the baobab is called the "tree of life."
Because of limited knowledge about these trees, scientists embarked on a mission in 2005 to study their structure, growth, and age. What they found, among other things, was that eight of the 13 oldest African baobab trees have either died or had their oldest stems die.
"We report that nine of the 13 oldest ... individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years," said the researchers, describing the "an event of an unprecedented magnitude."
Of those nine, four were believed to be the largest African baobab trees in existence. Again, it's difficult 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."
Is Climate Change To Blame?
A decline like the researchers observed is drastic, according to chemist Adrian Patrut who organized the study.
"It's a strange 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. It's statistically very unlikely," he says.
A lot of scientists are increasingly getting concerned over the health of African baobab trees in Africa. Savannah ecology expert Carla Staver, of the Yale University, has validated the latest survey by saying it's consistent with a handful of concerns in Southern African conservation groups.
"Climate change certainly seems like a possible (or likely) contributor," she says.
If the researchers are correct, then African baobab trees are yet another precious item in the list of things humans ruined or killed. Great job, humans.