Scientists Discover Big Problem With Ancient Trees

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WIKIMEDIA, FERDINAND REUSAfrica's baobab trees, the largest and longest-living flowering plants in the world, are dying at a startling rate, according to a study published yesterday (June 11) in Nature Plants.

The new research, by Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and an global group of colleagues, finds that in the past 12 years, "9 of the 13 oldest and 5 of the 6 largest individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died".

Worldwide scientists have discovered that most of the oldest and largest African baobab trees have died over the past 12 years. 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. But during their study period, the researchers discovered that the oldest and largest had died. And it's no fluke, he adds.

Old trees eventually die. The stories note baobobs' iconic place in African history. According to Patrut, it was around 2,500 years old - meaning that it sprouted a few years after the assassination of Julius Caesar. But in 2016, its stems began to crack and collapse, one by one. Since the study began, nine of the 13 oldest have died or partially perished.

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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.

It is not entirely clear why the trees have abruptly died, but researchers say that climate change is the likely cause, even if only in part.

The baobab tree is a natural icon of the African savannah.

If climate change is truly the culprit, this is just the latest evidence of how our careless addiction to carbon is damaging the sensitive ecosystems around us in ways that could be irrevocable.

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The majority of the oldest and largest baobab trees were found in Southern Africa. Over its lifetime, a baobab's roots send up several more stems in a ring. All the dead trees were located in the south of the continent - Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia. Increased temperature and drought are the primary threats, Patrut told BBC News.

The baobab tree, sometimes called the "Tree of Life", has an unforgettable appearance.

Patrut says the dead trunks were only 40% water‚ instead of the 75%-80% they should have been. They have been surveying the trees since 2005 and have developed a theory of how they grow, while also documenting the losses.

“This a unique characteristic of the African baobab and all the baobab trees, ” said Patrut, who has dated different parts of the trees using radiocarbon dating methods.

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"The decline and death of so many large baobabs in recent years is so tragic", Baum says.

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