Death of Ancient Baobab Trees Suspected to be Caused by Climate Change

An international team of scientists have raised concerns about Africa's ancient baobab trees after witnessing huge amounts of tree deaths in the last decade.
Jessica Miley

Scientists announced about some of Africa’s oldest baobab trees that have abruptly died in the last decade. Many researchers believe that climate change may be the root cause of this problem. 

Some of the Baobab trees that have perished are believed to be 1,100 and 2,500 years old. "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," the researchers wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants. 

They described the trees death as "an event of an unprecedented magnitude." "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages," said the study's co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. 

Climate change likely to have caused deaths

The researchers "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." 

The collaborative research team which includes experts from Romania, South Africa, and the United States, have made it clear further research is needed in order "to support or refute this supposition." The team spent 12 years documenting "practically all known very large and potentially old" African baobabs. 

Their extensive survey of trees included over 60 individuals, each one of which was probed and dated. Information on the trees girth, height, wood volume, and age, were noted. 

The study set out to merely make a survey of these majestic trees, but during the research period, the scientist began to notice the "unexpected and intriguing fact" that most of the very oldest and biggest trees perished during the study period.

All the affected trees were located in southern Africa, in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. The baobab is famous for its gnarled branches that resemble tree roots.

Trees closely tied to African image

Its silhouette is inextricably linked with Africa. According to the baobab research team, the tree is the longest-living flowering tree. It is endemic to Africa’s savannah region, but can also be found in tropical areas where it was introduced. 

Kruger National Park in South Africa is a natural habitat for the majestic trees, according to the park's website, healthy Baobab trees can live for up to 3,000 years. Some of the very large old species can shelter 40 humans inside its trunk. 

The site goes on to describe how the inside of the trees have been used for various purposes including a bus top, prison and as housing. The tree isn’t just a good shelter; its leaves provide nutrition and is a common food source in Africa. 

The raw leaves are boiled and eaten in a manner similar to spinach. Its bark is also valuable, being able to be pounded and woven into rope, baskets, cloth, and waterproof hats. The researchers will continue their investigation by noting that none of the trees they witness dying had any sign of disease.