Several of southern Africa's largest baobab trees have suddenly and unexpectedly died, and scientists fear climate change is the culprit. In recent years, a mysterious fungal disease has been hitting baobabs trees in certain parts of the continent.
All of the dead or dying baobabs detailed in the latest study are located in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, and all are between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old. 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.
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.
Adrian Patrut, a co-author of the study and an academic at the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, said: "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages". While the cause of the die-off is not yet certain, climate change has already been pegged by the team and by other researchers as the likely cause.
The baobab can live for 3,000 years, according to South Africa's Kruger National Park.
Scientists believe that this phenomenon is not associated with any epidemic, and global climate change and in particular warming on the African contintent, but scientifically proven facts in favor of this version yet. Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, the unusual trees look like they were drawn by Dr. Seuss, with wide, fat, trunks capped by sparse branches covered in green leaves.
"Pretty much every baobab tree in Southern Africa is covered in the healed scars of past elephant attacks, which speaks to the trees' incredible 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. "However, further research is necessary to support or refute this". It stores huge quantities of water and grows fruit edible for both humans and animals.
The baobab is the biggest and longest-living flowering tree‚ and has branches resembling roots reaching for the sky.
The baobab known as Adansonia digitata L.is an icon of the African savannah. Its leaves are boiled and eaten‚ while its bark is pounded and woven into rope‚ baskets‚ cloth and waterproof hats. "Such fix growth would lead to an inverted age sequence where wood initially gets older as you move towards the outside of the tree from the hollow".
It's possible that the deaths are part of a natural cycle, though it's hard to say because baobabs decay rapidly and don't leave behind any evidence of previous die-offs. But in 2011 the oldest known specimen-a shrine for rainmakers named Panke that sprouted about 2450 years ago-died and toppled over.