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Deaths of African baobab trees linked to climate change

AFRICAN BAOBAB DEATHS: The trees typically live for thousands of years

THE RECENT deaths of some of Africa’s oldest and largest baobab trees are being linked to climate change.

The trees, which are located in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, range from 1,100 and 2,500 years old.

Researchers who produced a study published in scientific journal Nature Plants say the sudden deaths could be a consequence of climate change.

“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 study said.

Adrian Patrut, a co-author of the study and an academic at the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, said: “It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages.”

Four of the largest African baobabs were among the nine trees identified by researchers.

The baobab tree, commonly referred to as the “tree of life”, is found naturally in arid regions.

The trees are distinctive due to their extremely large stems in which they store large amounts of water, enabling them to withstand intense droughts. They also produce vitamin c-rich fruit known as “monkey bread” or “cream of tartar fruit” that can be eaten by humans and animals.

Scientists say the tree can live up to 3,000 years old.

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 authors wrote: "We 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. However, further research is necessary to support or refute this supposition.”

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