Africa’s Oldest Baobab Trees Are Dying Suddenly

Although more evidence is needed to pin down a cause, researchers suspect that climate change is to blame.

By Catherine Offord | June 12, 2018

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. An international team of researchers found that nine of the 13 oldest African baobabs (Adansonia digitata)—all more than 1,000 years old—and five of the six largest individuals have partially or completely died in the last 12 years. While the cause of the die-off is not yet certain, climate change has already been pegged by the team and by other researchers as the likely cause.

“When around 70 percent of your 1,500- to 2,000-year-old trees died within 12 years, it certainly is not normal,” Erika Wise, a geographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the work, tells The Atlantic. “It is difficult to come up with a culprit other than climate change.”

The study is the culmination of multiple surveys carried out across southern Africa since 2005. 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.

None of the trees showed obvious signs of infection, the researchers found, and the pattern of deaths did not fit what would be expected had the die-off been caused by a contagious disease. Instead, “we suspect this is associated with increased temperature and drought,” study coauthor Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania tells BBC News. “It’s shocking and very sad to see them dying,” he adds.

The authors note in their paper that more evidence is needed to determine whether climate change is indeed the cause of the die-offs. Nevertheless, the discovery is eye-opening as to the sensitivity of these seemingly indestructible trees, Henry Ndangalasi, a botanist at the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, tells National Geographic. “I think we take for granted that these giant trees have no problem,” he says.

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You



Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo


Avatar of: dmarciani


Posts: 70

June 13, 2018

During the Middle Ages, when people could not explain certain damaging events, the explanation was always that it was the Devil’s work. An explanation that was widely accepted and that would be debunked by modern science. Ironically, since modern science cannot use again the Devil’s theory, it has created its own version of the Devil, i.e. “climate change,” the XXI century all-purpose devil. Apparently and according to many followers of the climate change school, it seems that during the past 1500 years or more, climate has been steady and that any dramatic changes only occurred during the last 50 years. I choose 1500 years because that time frame would include the life span of the dying baobab trees. Apparently, dying of old age is now considered a side-effect of climate change; thus, I would not be surprise when the higher death rate among humans over 70 years of age starts to be attributed to climate changes. While sad that such unique trees are dying, I do not believe that their lives would be saved by invocation of the modern times’ devil, i.e. climate change; in fact, such a claim may distract the attention from trying to find the real causes and possible solutions. Yet, modern scientists should realize that immortality is only a mythological concept and as real as the philosopher’s stone.   

Popular Now

  1. Prominent Salk Institute Scientist Inder Verma Resigns
  2. Anheuser-Busch Won’t Fund Controversial NIH Alcohol Study
  3. Dartmouth Professor Investigated for Sexual Misconduct Retires
  4. North American Universities Increasingly Cancel Publisher Packages