'Shocking and dramatic': Some of Africa's oldest and biggest trees dying

'Shocking and dramatic': Some of Africa's oldest and biggest trees dying

While using radio carbon dating to investigate the age and structure of trees in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia, the team discovered that many baobabs had stems that had died completely, or had partially collapsed.

The largest and oldest Baobab trees in Africa, if not already dead, are now dying.

"We suspect 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", said the team, led by Dr Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.

Southern Africa, where the researchers cataloged the trees, has already been heating up faster than the global average, and researchers with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say the region will see some of the most intense temperatures hikes and reduced rainfall on the continent. At various times, these trees have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn and a bus shelter. "However, further research is necessary to support or refute this supposition", the authors wrote.

The scientists said the spate of deaths, described in the journal Nature Plants, might be the result of a changing climate but that research needs to be done to determine that. 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. 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. It stores huge quantities of water and grows fruit edible for both humans and animals.

To conduct the study, researchers combed books, articles, and the internet and asked local Africans in order to locate the biggest baobabs.

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

The goal of the study was to learn how the trees become so enormous. Now, researchers report things get even weirder as the tree grows older.

"When they do die, they simply rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibers, which makes many people think that they don't die at all, but simply disappear", states the website.

However the report says researchers have not linked disease or some other similar phenomena to the baobab's decline. In 2010, its branches started to fall off; then its multiple stems began to split and topple over. That includes Panke, a sacred baobab in Zimbabwe that was estimated to be about 2,450 years old, with an 82-foot-wide trunk and a height of 51 feet.

Other than the oldest and biggest, the research team observed that many other mature baobabs had died.

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