Namibia's Giant Baobab Trees Are Dying, Climate Change Blamed

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Baobab trees in Madagascar, Africa. It was estimated to be about 2,500 years old.

“Pretty much every baobab tree in Southern Africa is covered in the healed scars of past elephant attacks, which speaks to the trees awesome 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. 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.

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.

"Statistically, it is practically impossible that such a high number of large old baobabs die in such a short time frame due to natural causes", they said. The baobab puts out new stems in the same way that other trees grow new branches.

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Southern Africa - including countries like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, where the trees catalogued by Patrut were found - is already warming faster than the global average. The researchers don't have enough data to point out a culprit, but they believe it's climate change. 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".

The study's co-author, Adrian Patrut of Romania's Babes-Bolyai University, described the findings as "an event of an unprecedented magnitude".

Some of the oldest and largest baobabs in SA, Zimbabwe‚ Namibia‚ Botswana and Zambia have died abruptly in the past decade‚ says a team of worldwide researchers.

Patrut began to notice the deaths during a long-term effort to use radiocarbon dating to gauge the ages of major baobabs.

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Some of the largest are more than 20m wide - one specimen in South Africa known as the Platland housed a bar until it began to rot and split apart in 2016.

"These trees are under pressure by temperature increases and drought", he says. Dry conditions and increasing temperatures might have something to do with the sudden deaths, but the scientists say that more research is needed to know for sure. "Climate change certainly seems like a possible (or likely) contributor". They are all between 1,000 and more than 2,500 years old.

Whatever the cause, these mysterious deaths will have a big impact on the southern African landscape, as in addition to shade, the tree's bark, roots, seeds, and fruit are key food sources for many animals.

But Baum does not contest that large baobabs are dying - something he calls “heartbreaking.”.

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