The last 13 years have been terrible for ancient African baobab trees.
Nine of the 13 oldest either lost trunks or died altogether after having lived for longer than a millennium, researchers report June 11 in Nature Plants. But just what the demise means for the iconic species is up for debate.
“Whilst we are saddened about the death and collapse [of the old trees], current evidence does not indicate that this is affecting the whole population,” says plant scientist Sarah Venter, who was not part of the new study. Venter, with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, does not see an immediate threat to the species as a whole. These trees of extreme age “were probably more vulnerable to dry conditions,” she says. “Tree mortality is complex and can be attributed to many causes, including climate change and droughts.”