The World's Ancient Baobab Trees Are Dying, And We Don't Know Why

The exact reason the world's oldest and largest baobabs are dead or dying is a mystery, but the likely culprit is climate change.

Sun starburst at sunrise
Getty ImagesHannes Thirion

One of Africa’s most iconic landmarks is the strangely-shaped baobab tree, its large trunk a prominent landmark on the savannah. But scientists have found that , and while the exact cause is unknown. it seems like the culprit is climate change-related.

Baobab trees grow in the savannah, and are known for thriving and even producing delicious fruit despite the hot, dry climate. If anything, we would expect that baobabs would be the most capable of weathering the effects of a changing climate. However, a group of researchers investigated several baobabs in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia and .

This isn’t just a case of these baobabs reaching the ends of their lifespans. Baobabs live for thousands of years and many of these particular trees have been around longer than most human civilizations. One of the oldest of the dying trees included in the study was around 2,500 years old.

The research team found that nine of the thirteen oldest baobabs are dead or dying, along with five of the six largest. The researchers estimate that this is a recent development, happening sometime in the last decade or so.

So why are these trees dying? The researchers aren’t sure exactly, and there could be many possible causes, but one of the likeliest is some sort of consequence from climate change. Even the most resilient-seeming organisms can start to die off once their natural climate has changed too much, and baobabs are no exception.

As the climate changes further, we’ll likely continue to lose more baobabs along with thousands of other plants and animals, and many of them aren’t coming back. Even if the baobab doesn’t go extinct, it will take thousands of years to regrow many of the individual trees dotting the savannah. Just one more casualty of our warming planet.

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