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Science

Giant African Baobab Trees Die Suddenly After Thousands of Years (theguardian.com) 174

Some of Africa's oldest and biggest baobab trees have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, according to researchers. From a report: The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. "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," they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing "an event of an unprecedented magnitude." "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages," said the study's co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers "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." Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, "to support or refute this supposition."

Giant African Baobab Trees Die Suddenly After Thousands of Years

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  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @06:56PM (#56774334)

    Baobob trees were fine for thousands of years... ...until 2005 when researches started examining them, then nearly 70% of the oldest ones die.

    HMM.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by oic0 ( 1864384 )
      Nope! definitely climate change. Always climate change.
    • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @07:33PM (#56774492) Homepage

      SuperKendall mused:

      Baobob trees were fine for thousands of years... ...until 2005 when researches started examining them, then nearly 70% of the oldest ones die.

      HMM.

      I highly doubt climate change did them in. It just doesn't work that way.

      I suspect a newly-introduced pathogen is responsible, as turned out to be the case with sudden oak death syndrome [wikipedia.org] a few years ago.

      Don't get me wrong. I do, indeed, expect climate change to negatively impact baobob trees, and many, many other species (coastal and montane redwoods, anyone?) - eventually. Just not yet, and not this suddenly ...

      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        Yeah, we've got the ash borer in Colorado. For 45 years I'd never seen a tree die at any house I lived at, then all of a sudden 3 of them in one year. And the pine beetle was killing the hell out of the pine trees up in the park, too. You'd come around a mountain curve and all the trees on the side of the mountain would be dead. Crazy. Guess it's a bad decade for trees.
        • I was just in Rocky Mountain National park last week. Their paper they give you says that now 65% of the pine trees in the park are dead due to the pine beetles. Sobering and sad.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Pathogens may themselves be the result of climate change. An organism that previously existed only within some very narrow bounds of tolerance, may find that it can now thrive across a much wider area.

        I'm not trying to argue with you, just saying - even if it was a pathogen, that doesn't mean climate change had nothing to do with it.

        Yes, it's conjectural, but so is the whole "pathogen" hypothesis.

        • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @09:29PM (#56774862)

          Far more common case is that people who study trees carry pathogens that jump cross tree species. Another point is that studying trees involves invasive procedures like drilling holes in them to make assessments of age, and as any arborist worth his salt will tell you, older trees are very bad at recovering from such shocks than young trees.

        • by plover ( 150551 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @10:30PM (#56775080) Homepage Journal

          This has long been a concern of mine. Our area used to be in agricultural "Zone 2", meaning we'd usually experience a few day snap of -22F winter weather. This killed off a wide variety of non-native pests, such as those that arrived here on trucks and railcars from warmer clones during the summers. After a decade of record warm winters, we've been re-classified as Zone 4 and the transient beasts never die off now. So we've now got emerald ash borers; gypsy moths; new wasps, bees, and ants; and various roaches and snakes we've never had to deal with before, They're killing vast numbers of native trees and plants.

          • by fatwilbur ( 1098563 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2018 @02:47AM (#56775678)
            I call BS on this anecdote after reading into it.. most agricultural zone systems have levels separated by multiple degrees (F), and there's no place on earth that's experienced that level of warming over a single decade. The periods like that which I can find (they do exist) were typically in the past and part of random noise in the data; eg. there were always periods of very cold winters to follow. No different from flipping heads 10 times in a row - it does occur in large variable data sets but not common. Even the reference documentation I can find (all climate change advocate sites) note changes to ag zones typically occur over 30 year periods or more.

            While local fauna may no doubt have to adapt to new threats in the future, the much, much larger and quicker threat is invasive species introduction by human means.

            Oh and know what else that ag zone shift means? The area can support growing much more food, and much more valuable food.
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              over 50 some years my area has gone from a low zone 4 to a mid zone 5... while we haven't been reclassified officially on the maps, the reality is the annual low temperatures aren't getting down to the -30f they used too... they are only getting down to -15F or -10F...

              If a region was a high zone 2 they could very reasonable be a zone 4 now...

              So I call BS on your call of BS, because I've watched it happen as I've been gardening, but if that's not enough, here is some data from a meteorologist... https://blog

            • by plover ( 150551 )

              I call BS on this anecdote after reading into it.. most agricultural zone systems have levels separated by multiple degrees (F), and there's no place on earth that's experienced that level of warming over a single decade.

              Minnesota has always had pronounced extremes of weather, from -60F (-51C) to +114F (+45C). And this wasn't simply a single ten year rise in averages - the temps have been steadily rising since my childhood (several decades ago), back when we were Zone 2B. I was just noting that the last decade has not only continued the rise; but the old extremes no longer contain the current temperature range. Given that our average annual temperature has been rising by an average of 0.776F per decade, it's not all that

          • Hooray for snakes!

        • by Anonymous Coward

          climate change increasing pathogen range is way beyond the understanding of a closed-minded idiot. A lot of people think the Earth is flat. I mean when you are there, how do you get to second or third-level systems thinking? It's amazing how close-minded people can be, their brain "protecting" them. How... lesser-evolved animal-like of them. Almost like we evolved from, well, lesser animals. Damnit I hate the half of the populace holding the earth down. :( They are the same people that litter, too. Because

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by blindseer ( 891256 )

        Just not yet, and not this suddenly ...

        Using "suddenly" and "over 12 years" together does not compute. I'd be interested in seeing some kind of evidence on how these trees fared in the past. It's quite amazing for these trees to have lived for so long but it would seem feasible to me that 1000 years ago we could have seen trees of this type die off then too. The changing of the climate then could have also done them in.

        Consider an analogous situation on a human. We see a 150 year old man fall ill and die. Do we blame this on climate change

        • by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2018 @02:00AM (#56775606) Homepage

          blindseer commented:

          Using "suddenly" and "over 12 years" together does not compute.

          I beg to disagree.

          When several 1500-2000 year old trees die in the same area over a period of 12 years, for no apparent reason, I'd call that "sudden."

          In fact, that's exactly what I did call it. In terms of your analogy, if a half-dozen 150-year-olds die in the same area over a period of 12 months, for no apparent reason, I'd also call that "sudden," because it's the cluster of deaths that would make them stand out. One 150-year-old dying for no apparent reason is just a datum. 3 or more dying in the same area over a short time (relative to the length of their lives) is unusual enough to warrant a search for a common cause, rather than simply saying, "Oh, well. They were old. What can you do?"

          Were I living in that area, and approaching my 150th birthday, I'd certainly want answers - and a ticket to somewhere else ... !

          • It's a bit more than that.

            It's like a half dozen people between 40 and 85 all suddenly died in the same area over a period of less than a 6 months.

            The trees were between "1,100 and 2,500".

            The young 1,100 year old trees contradict the age argument.

            • by thomst ( 1640045 )

              Maxo-Texas pointed out:

              It's a bit more than that.

              It's like a half dozen people between 40 and 85 all suddenly died in the same area over a period of less than a 6 months.

              The trees were between "1,100 and 2,500".

              The young 1,100 year old trees contradict the age argument.

              Good point.

              I'd mod you +1 Insightful, if I could ...

              • Well I would mark you +1, Nice and Agreeable. :-)

                • by thomst ( 1640045 )

                  Maxo-Texas confessed:

                  Well I would mark you +1, Nice and Agreeable. :-)

                  While I appreciate and thank you for the compliment, the fact is that scoring points doesn't interest me. I'd much rather participate in and encourage thoughtful, fact-based discussions of this and other subjects. For me, that means awarding mod points on that basis, rather than because the poster agrees or disagrees with me.

                  I also very much appreciate it when people who respond to my posts point out salient facts that I've overlooked or failed to give sufficient weight.

                  I try very hard

                  • As I hope you can tell from my post, I prefer fact-based, civil conversation.

                    Disagreement indicates a potential for learning unless the person disagreeing is irrational.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        If some of them were even close to 2,000 years old, they have survived both much warmer and much colder conditions than today.

        The Medieval Warm Period was 300 years long.
        • by thomst ( 1640045 )

          Jane Q. Public noted:

          If some of them were even close to 2,000 years old, they have survived both much warmer and much colder conditions than today.

          The Medieval Warm Period was 300 years long.

          Good point.

          I'd mod you +1 Informative, if I could ...

      • The purpose of the study was to learn how these Africans become so enormous

        Two words for the scientists: "Chicken Licken".

      • Yeah, and some of those pathogens and insect Invaders are probably spreading due to climate change. We know for sure that it's happening with insects.

      • If anything kills plants dead, it's CO2!
    • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @07:38PM (#56774506) Journal

      Makes you wonder. I have a oak that is about a century old on my property. The damn carpenter ants are attacking it. The arborist checked it out recently (I love this giant old tree). He said there is not much you can do. Bugs get oaks eventually its what ultimately kills them all. You take it down or you can just wait and let it fall down when its time comes (it won't hit anything but other trees) is what I was advised.

      He also told me trees that age don't recover from shocks as easily as younger trees. Don't limb it anymore, if you want to let it go and see how long she lasts. Only cut obviously dead limbs out. Otherwise leave it alone, look enjoy don't touch. Was the rest of his advice.

      A few points
      1) Trees like all organisms have a finite life span (maybe these baobab trees are just getting to that age)
      2) Trees like all things can only take so much abuse maybe being studied is in someway harmful to them.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        North Carolina used to have oaks so big that the entire floor of a room could be made from a slab cut through the center of it (and some were). In other words, they were larger in diameter than the shortest measure of a typical room. Sadly, none today come close.

        Imagine how long those took to grow.

        And guess what... there were people there the whole time. It was only when people of European descent invaded that the trees were utilized in a non-sustainable fashion.

        Trees fall to disease early today because of

      • by Jzanu ( 668651 )
        Don't ignore ecology: why are there more ants alive and foraging for food specifically in your area, and in such elevated numbers that they kill century old trees? Elevated temperatures increase the hatching of innumerable insects, shift them to earlier in the year, they then act as food for the ants, etc.
      • Makes you wonder. I have a oak that is about a century old on my property. The damn carpenter ants are attacking it. The arborist checked it out recently (I love this giant old tree).

        Well get rid of the carpenter ants, anyway.

        • Well get rid of the carpenter ants, anyway.

          Or ask them to make you a bookshelf, or something. Try to keep them busy with useful stuff instead of eating trees.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Dr. Schrodinger examined them.

  • by Tulsa_Time ( 2430696 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @07:11PM (#56774398)

    Get ready.

  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @07:20PM (#56774432)
    You stop using ground-up rhinoceros horn fertilizer on the trees, and look what happens.
  • In other news: The oldest humans on the planet are dying, or having parts of their bodies fail, MUCH more often than even those a few years younger.

    (According to the Social Security administration's Period Life Table for 2015, the probability of death within a year for a person 119 years old is 90%, while at 107 years it's only 50%. Research papers and tables compiled by other insurance operations give similar numbers.)

    Baobab tree trunks are not a single stem growing from the roots, but a cluster of them, of varying ages. This looks like a strategy for achieving long life for the overall organism without having to achieve long life for all of its parts: Just grow additional trunk stems. When the older ones get feeble and die off, the younger ones are still there and take over. (Of course sometimes you end up with a lot of old ones, and losing most of them all at once is the end of the show.)

    This is not to say that the deaths observed here are NOT caused, in whole or great part, by climate change or some other stress in recent years. But the study seems to be just a recent look, with nothing in the past to compare it to. So while it indicates that, recently, the oldest individuals and oldest chunks of them died off more than the younger instances, it does nothing to distinguish whether this is the normal condition of the trees vs. the result of something recent.

  • I love it when science doesn't have the answers, but tries to look like it does. The article is a case in point; they don't know what killed the trees, or why they died, but... it was climate change...
    • It's not the science, it's the article. Two completely different things. This is The Guardian, not the journal Nature.

    • They don't mention obvious stuff like possible local irrigation causing salinity or lowering the water table.
      • Local irrigation spread across entire countries...

        All were in southern Africa – Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia

        Did you misspell global warming?

  • It's the millennials' fault

  • "Suddenly"

    "individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years"

    Pick one. It can't be both.

    • by DamonHD ( 794830 )

      Why not? Death is not exactly the same for large plants as it is for humans.

      And "suddenly" seems entirely justified as a in a very short span relative to their mean age.

      Rgds

      Damon

  • How the hell can you say "suddenly" after thousands of years have elapsed?
    Suddenly maybe on a geologic scale...

    • Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'suddenly' that I wasn't previously aware of.

      --- thanks (and apologies) to Douglas Adams

  • They are having a genuine water crisis right now in some South African cities.

    I recall reading that aggressive farming can suck a water table dry.

    Big trees have tap roots that drill down to the water table,
    which contains 'fossil water' - old water that does not get replenished
    easily or at all.

  • ... end of life maybe? You do know trees don't live forever, right? But hey, "climate change" gets you in the news.

    Other spontaneously idiotic possibilities: it was the Russians, Chinese, or North Koreans ... or Trump. So many possibilities.

    On the plus side, they WERE NOT CUT DOWN. So yay team humans!

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