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Home / World / Old baobab trees in southern Africa are dying. Scientists blame climate change.

Old baobab trees in southern Africa are dying. Scientists blame climate change.



These spectral giants mix in the Sahara and have been an icon of the African savanna for millennia.

As the oldest seed producer in the world, its resilience – some more than 2000 years old – has earned many names in myths, legends and folklore.

The Baobab was called the Tree of Life, the Monkey Bread Tree and the Reverse Tree – due to its fat trunk, whose roots move towards the sky.

But these strange-looking giants die.

Some of the oldest and largest monkey bread trees in southern Africa have died recently, and this could be due to climate change. This emerges from a study from 2018 published in the journal Nature Plants.

Some trees in Zimbabwe Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia date back to the ancient Greeks.

  The ecologist Sarah Venter under one of the largest baobab trees in the world. The inhabitants of Vhavenda (or Venda) call this mystical giant

. Baobabs have experienced tougher conditions Trees and five of the six largest trees have died partially or completely in the last 12 years.

The baobab tree can live to be 3000 years old and, according to the website, can reach the length of a bus of Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Due to their age, the trees have often withstood adverse conditions than today.

"In the last 1,000 years of southern Africa, baobabs have suffered much worse drought than we have, and they have had a much wetter life," said Stephan Woodborne.

  A baobab tree in Lower Sambezi in Zambia.

In Johannesburg, where he is a senior scientist in iThemba laboratories, Woodborne uses accelerometer mass spectrometry, a form of radiocarbon dating, to determine the age of these trees.

"Of the oldest trees that we have seen in southern Africa, the three trees that are older than 2,000 years, they have all died in the last 10 years, out of the 11 trees that in this age 1,000 to 2,000 years old, six of them have died, "he said.

"If you look at the places where those thousand-year-old and very large baobabs have died, they are all in southern Africa, generally not baobabs, just baobabs on the southern edge," Woodborne said , 19659002] "We suspect that the decline of monumental baobabs may at least partially be accompanied by significant changes in climatic conditions, particularly in southern Africa, but more research is needed to support or disprove this assumption," the authors of the year said 2018 report wrote.

Millennial tree collapses

Baobabs often have hollow trunks. In the past, people used their massive internal cavities as warehouses, prisons – even drinking caves.

For over two decades, the Sunland Monkey Bread tree in South Africa has been a popular attraction, where tourists could order a glass of wine from a bar built in the more than 1,000-year-old hollow trunk of the tree.

That was until last year, when the tree was split after previous breaks in 2016.

"It was four o'clock in the morning and we all woke up to a jumbo jet landing in the garden and a few minutes later, 10 minutes later, the big crash happened," recalls Heather van Heerden, who runs the bar in the Sunland Baobab owned and on whose farm the tree stood.

"When the tree collapsed, I just felt absolutely devastated and so sad, as though part of my soul had collapsed."

Before the partial collapse, the Mooketsi Baobab, as it is also called, was adopted as the largest baobab tree in Africa.

When Van Heerden and her husband cleared out the hollow center of the tree in 1993, they removed compost in 1993 to expose the soil about one meter below the soil surface.

They found the remains of former Dutch settlers and evidence of Bushmen.

"Here was a Bushman bed as we hollow out the interior," Van Heerden said.

The Panke tree, the oldest of the dying trees, lived 2,500 years until he died in 2011.

In Limpopo, the Glencoe Baobab was considered the largest living baobab. Its huge hull measures over 154 feet until it split in 2009.

It is still uncertain what causes the death of the baobab tree. But Woodborne believes that climate change is the main culprit.

"When it comes to explaining exactly what kills the baobabs, I suspect that we are dealing with one of the fastest warming regions of the earth and the combination. The drier conditions with hotter conditions are something This will be tested in the future. "

  Baobab fruit harvesters will be harvesting baobab fruits in November 2018, which they harvested in the village of Muswodi Dipeni in Limpopo Province, South Africa.

An ideal species for Climate Research

Woodborne began planting carbon date trees in dates With a lifespan of over millennia, he realized that baobabs are an ideal species for climate research.

While the age of most fallen trees can be determined by counting the number of rings in the trunk, baobabs do not regularly produce tree rings, and when they do, the rings are too weak to be counted.

"Sometimes we saw trees that laid six rings in a year, and sometimes trees do not lay rings for years," Woodborne explained.

The trees produce new stems in an annular pattern, which often merge with each other over time to form their hollow trunks. Only by carbon dating their age could be accurately determined.

Woodborne says that it is interesting at the Sunland tree that the surviving trunk is the oldest part of the tree, about 1100 years old, while the collapsed trunk is 300 years old younger.

Botswana's Chapman's Baobab fell to the ground in 2016 and unpredictable weather conditions are believed to be responsible for his demise. It has long been a sight for miracles – some notable – including the 19th century British missionary David Livingstone.

Adrian Patrut, one of the authors of the 2018 study on dying baobabs, found that the tree had only 40% water in its stems, compared to 70% to 80% for healthy baobabs.

The rainy season usually starts in September 2015 and did not start until February 2016. And then it was too late for the tree.

  The fruit of a baobab tree. The seeds and the calcareous powder inside have become a global health craving known for their vitamin-rich properties.

"The Monkey Bread Keepers"

Today, native women in South Africa plant new seeds to ensure the survival of the Baobab. Sarah Venter, an ecologist, began a five-year study on baobabs.

During this time, she found that baobab seedlings in the area had little chance of surviving against goats that ate the seed before they had time to germinate. So she started a program called "The Baobab Guardians".

Since 2014 there have been Guardians in several villages in the Venda region of South Africa. "I take a GPS coordinate of the seedling while we plant it," Venter said.

The goal is to have 50 baobab trees through the project that are more than a thousand years old.

"When women protect their seedlings from goats, they are very resourceful in terms of what they do, some have used bricks and some use sticks, some use knits and wire," she said.

The Monkey Bread Tree is revered in Africa, it has cared for locals for centuries, so its survival is important to the people who live there. Drugs are extracted from the leaves, while the fruit, which is rich in vitamin C, is used for nutrition and the seeds provide oil.

"A tree in Tshivenda (the language spoken in southern Africa) has the prefix, which resembles the prefix of a human being:" Mutu, "the human being," muree, "a tree," community worker, Muanalo Dyer explained it. "That means it has the same value as humans."

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