SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: June 11, 2018

SNIP: The baobab tree, sometimes called the “Tree of Life,” has an unforgettable appearance. Found in savanna regions of Africa, Madagascar and Australia, the trees form a very thick and wide trunk and mainly branch high above the ground. They can grow to be thousands of years old, and develop hollows inside so large that one massive baobab in South Africa had a bar inside it.

But that tree, the more than 1,000-year-old Sunland baobab, apparently the biggest of these trees in Africa, “toppled over” last year. Another famous baobab, the Chapman tree in Botswana, collapsed in 2016.

Something similar, a new scientific study suggests, is happening to the oldest and largest baobabs across the world in “an event of an unprecedented magnitude.”

The research, by Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and an international 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.”

“Each of these trees was unique and special,” he wrote. “They have seen more history than we can imagine.”

Patrut says the largest trees are the most vulnerable — and he believes that a changing climate is involved, although the study itself says that “further research is necessary to support or refute this supposition.”

In Zimbabwe, baobab deaths are reportedly being accompanied by what appears to be some type of fungus that turns the trees black before they die. Patrut’s study, which surveys baobabs much more widely, contends that for the oldest trees in particular, the deaths “were not caused by an epidemic.”