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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Methuselah Trees Are Dying

Methuselah Trees Are Dying

Madagascar baobabs (credit: Wikicommons/Pat Hooper)

They are often called Methuselah trees. The most ancient individuals of their kind alive today. Specimens of California's giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), Nevada's bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva), the famous cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), and Africa's massive baobabs (Adansonia digitata) are ancient sentinels, some that have survived before human civilization. Dramatic changes have been observed in Africa as new research shows.

Publishing in Nature Plants, ecologists from South Africa, Romania, and the United States examined Baobabs across Africa and its adjacent islands. According to their studies, between 2005-2017 they dated more than 60 trees, nearly all of the continent’s known largest, and potentially oldest, living baobabs. The investigators made an unexpected finding that many of these ancient trees had died within the past decade. Commenting in their report,

"nine of the 13 oldest, and 5 of the 6 largest, baobabs we measured died in the 12-year period — an event of unprecedented magnitude.”

The ecologists found no sign of an epidemic or plant disease, leading them to believe the culprit was likely the changing climatic conditions in southern Africa which has been affected by an extended drought. Without some rain the baobabs, looking like a gigantic succulent, may not be able to survive uninterrupted drought. Again, the ecologists observed:

"in 2010 and 2011, all the stems of a giant, sacred baobab tree in Zimbabwe, fell over and died. We estimate that the tree was 2,450 years old, making it the oldest accurately dated African baobab and angiosperm (flowering plant). Other trees across southern Africa also died completely, or had partial stem collapse." 

Additional research is necessary to determine the connections between drought, climate change, and baobab collapse. However, the ancient trees are trying to tell us something if we would listen.


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