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Climate change killing off Africa’s iconic baobab tree

13 June 2018

"W$3 hen around 70 percent of your 1,500 to 2,000-year-old trees died within 12 years, it certainly is not normal", she says.

An icon of the African bush, the baobab with its swollen trunk and gnarled branches are a familiar sight in the savannahs of southern, east and west Africa.

"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages", Adrian Patrut of Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania, one of the study's co-authors, told AFP. But we may not be able to figure out just how long: Ed Yong at The Atlantic reports that the oldest baobabs across Africa have been dying over the past dozen years, and researchers believe it's a direct result of climate change.

Between 2005 and 2017, the researchers probed and dated "practically all known very large and potentially old" African baobabs - more than 60 individuals in all.

The researchers don't know for sure, but they describe the spate of high-profile deaths - the end of trees so grand they each had their own names - is an event of "unprecedented magnitude" that likely points to climate change.

Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, "to support or refute this supposition".

Several of Africa's largest baobab trees have suddenly and unexpectedly died, with scientists fearing climate change to be the culprit.

Africa's baobab tree looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book.

To conduct the study, researchers combed books, articles, and the internet and asked local Africans in order to locate the biggest baobabs. Baobobs grow in unusual ways, often with hollows, making it hard to gauge precise ages, but the research team says the trees in the survey range in age from 1,000 to 2,500 years, reports NPR.

The oldest tree to suffer the collapse of all its stems was the Panke tree in Zimbabwe‚ estimated to have existed for 2‚500 years.

The tree serves as a massive store of water, and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans. In recent years, a mysterious fungal disease has been hitting baobabs trees in certain parts of the continent. Its leaves are boiled and eaten‚ while its bark is pounded and woven into rope‚ baskets‚ cloth and waterproof hats.

The goal of the study was to learn how the trees get so enormous. Scientists are finding that these trees are dying in rapid numbers.

The biggest, dubbed Holboom, was from Namibia.

The most famous victim of the die-off was the Chapman's baobab‚ a national monument and tourist attraction in central Botswana that bore the carved initials of explorer David Livingstone.

His study, published in the journal Nature Plants, suggests "that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular".

Climate change killing off Africa’s iconic baobab tree