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Long-lived baobab trees facing die-off

June 18, 2018 GMT

The baobab, native to southern Africa, is one of the strangest-looking trees on the planet. Its amazing trunks are wide enough for someone to live in, comfortably, while the branches are all bunched near the top. The baobab looks like something from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Several researchers spent more than a decade studying 60 baobabs in an effort to determine why their trunks are so wide, coming to the conclusion that it’s because they’re actually composed of multiple stems. But during their research the scientists happened upon a more significant discovery — the trees were dying.

Baobab trees typically live for thousands of years, in part because they are virtually indestructible. Something in their environment has changed, however, resulting in a remarkably rapid die-off. One baobab, named the Chapman, bore the initials of British explorer David Livingstone. It was 1,400 years old when, on Jan. 7, 2016, it suddenly toppled over. It, along with the many other baobabs that have died, showed no signs of disease. The researchers suspect climate change may be at least partially to blame, but more study will have to be undertaken.